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Judge to examine NC voter law

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

 A North Carolina law passed last year that requires voters to present photo identification and eliminates same-day voter registration has been called one of the farthest reaching overhauls to election rules in the country. Now a judge will decide whether it will stay that way.

Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union will argue the case against state lawyers over the law in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem on Monday. U.S. attorneys and civil rights groups are asking a judge for a preliminary injunction to temporarily delay implementation of parts of the law. The hearing is a prelude to a trial scheduled for July 2015 where a judge will determine whether to uphold or strike down the law.

Civil rights advocates argue North Carolina has a long history of implementing measures - like poll taxes and tests - to hinder African-Americans, the poor and the elderly from voting. Opponents of the law say it will negatively affect hundreds of thousands of people who want to vote.

"This is a full assault on the franchise of voting," said state NAACP President Rev. William Barber.

The judge in the preliminary injunction case Monday will not rule on whether to uphold or strike down the whole law with the voter ID mandate. Instead, he will decide what, if any, specific parts should be delayed until a final decision on the law is made in 2015.

The group wants a judge to temporarily reinstate same-day voter registration, the longer early voting period that was trimmed from 17 days to 10 days, and allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote. They also want polling officials barred from asking voters whether they have valid identification when they vote. The law otherwise directs poll-workers to ask voters if they have an ID and if they don't, provide them with information on how to get one before the 2016 election.

The case is a cornerstone in the "Moral Monday" movement led by Barber. The group will have a rally Monday night following the hearing and has created a statewide network of organizers to a focus on voter education, registration and pushing people to the polls come November.

Many of the Republicans who run the General Assembly were elected with less than 25 percent of the electorate voting in midterm elections, Barber said. Voters didn't expect Republicans to be as extreme as they are, Barber said, and he thinks they can be removed from office - if traditionally disenfranchised voters can get to the polls.

"A key component of the movement is the ability of racial minorities to vote," said attorney Irving Joyner, who is representing the NAACP in the lawsuit. "That creates a power base from which you can challenge the entrenched power that is in place now."

The law's authors and defenders maintain that there is nothing in it specifically barring anyone from voting, making it wholly different from taxes or tests of the past.

Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, a chief proponent of the measure in the Senate, said the overhaul keeps elections honest and was particularly fair in its delayed rollout over several election cycles for requiring voter ID. Parts of the law were in effect in the 2014 primaries, such as a ban on same-day voter registration, and supporters say the numbers show that it did not stop people from voting.

"There was no voter suppression. Actually we had some good turnouts for a primary election," Rucho said.

But the NAACP says those numbers don't speak to the law's impact in a larger general election.

"Our focus is on the turnout of African Americans," said Joyner. "Even in those instances there may have been a higher turnout in Republican campaigns ... that doesn't have anything to do with the turnout of the African-American community."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 other states have passed bills requiring an ID to vote. Wisconsin and Pennsylvania's version were struck down by judges earlier this year.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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