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Supreme Court strikes part of 1965 Voting Rights Act

SALISBURY — With the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday, North Carolina voters could need a photo ID sooner than expected — and they may have fewer options, said the author of a state bill.
Following the high court’s decision that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional, N.C. Rep. Harry Warren (R-Salisbury) said the justices 5-4 vote will accelerate the movement of the controversial Voter ID bill and he expects the Senate to look at strengthening some aspects.
“It’ll embolden the Senate to revisit a couple of provisions,” Warren, who authored the bill, said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The effective date of the legislation — right now, it’s set to take effect in 2016, if enacted — as well as the list of acceptable voter ID forms, Warren said, could be altered.
“We took a lot of criticism from people who were supporters of the Voter ID bill that the long list of acceptable forms of ID contains some forms that were too easy to be counterfeited,” Warren said. “I think that this decision will embolden the Senate to revisit that list and be a little more selective.”
One of the forms that might be cut out of the bill, Warren said, is college student IDs.
Most college IDs don’t have a date of expiration and date of issuance, Warren said — two requirements for an acceptable ID under the bill.
With Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act now defunct — which means several state and local laws that have not received Justice Department approval or have yet to be submitted will be able to take effect — Warren’s bill would not need federal approval.
Moreover, Warren said the Senate could look to speed along the program’s application.
“They may also look at the time table for implementing the program,” Warren said.
The justices said Section 4 could not be enforced unless Congress creates a new up-to-date formula for deciding which states still need federal monitoring.
But the section’s unconstitutional status leaves unchecked some litigation slated for federal inspection before the local measures could be enacted.
Among the most prominent are voter identification bills in North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.
Warren’s bill passed the House in April but has sat in the Senate Rules Committee since.
Chairman Tom Apodaca told the Associated Press the committee wanted to see how the Supreme Court would rule in the Voting Rights Act case.
The bill is expected to regain steam this week, Apodaca said.
Some groups quickly released statements on the decision Tuesday, calling for Congress to adopt a new formula for identifying localities with a history of electoral discrimination.
“With attempts to suppress voting becoming more common and more sophisticated across the country, and North Carolina’s legislature poised to approve legislation that will make it harder for thousands of eligible state voters to cast a ballot by requiring forms of ID that many North Carolinians lack and cannot easily obtain, the need for such protections is more urgent than ever,” North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Jennifer Rudinger said in a statement Tuesday.
“Unless Congress acts promptly to make sure that the federal government has the tools it needs to protect voting rights, today’s decision could leave many North Carolinians vulnerable to attempts to exclude them from the democratic process,” Rudinger said.
Still, some say the odds of Congress agreeing on a formula is slim — and the limbo period leaves the door open for legislation to pass without any federal approval.
Catawba College Politics Professor and interim-Provost Michael Bitzer said Warren’s bill is likely to be among the southern legislation affected.
“I’m hard pressed to see a GOP-led House and a Democratically controlled Senate come to any agreement on this controversial aspect, and if they don’t, what may happen is that the covered areas and any changes to their election laws may be up in the air, and that includes things like voter ID bill that is being worked on by Rep. Warren,” Bitzer said in an email Tuesday.
Forty counties in North Carolina were subject to federal pre-approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — a section that is now a moot point with Tuesday’s decision.
“Section 4 was the critical standard that determined what areas, and that means 40 counties in North Carolina, would have to gain federal approval before changing their election laws, from redistricting to things like voter requirements.”
The real question, Bitzer said, is when Congress would agree on a formula and what those standards would entail.
“Today’s decision may be the opening of a whole new round of challenges that, if Congress doesn’t create a new formula or standard, will continue with future legal battles,” he said.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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