RALEIGH, North Carolina — With all the legal wrangling and vocal protests about North Carolina's new election changes, you'd think legislators who helped pass the wide-reaching 2013 law might keep quiet about that support as General Assembly elections approach.
Actually, they're actively taking credit for the law — or at least it's most publicized provision.
In mailers and on a television ad early in the fall campaign, a handful of North Carolina Senate Republicans seeking re-election are highlighting their votes for a bill that will soon require people to show a valid photo identification to vote in person. That's because the idea of voter ID remains popular and reinforces a promise many lawmakers made to pass it when they first got elected.
"To stop fraud and guarantee fair and honest elections, Chad Barefoot passed voter ID," says a mailer authorized by Barefoot, a first-term Wake County Republican senator.
"Phil Berger didn't back down. He fought for our voter ID law," the narrator in the TV commercial for the Senate leader says. Their House GOP counterparts intend to trumpet voter ID leading to November, too.
The elections law approved by the GOP-led legislature and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory requires citizens to show one of several types of photo identification cards to vote by 2016. This year, voters only are being asked if they have an ID and told how to get one if they don't.
Critics say the GOP campaign materials, however, don't describe other changes contained in the law that took effect this year. The law reduced early voting from 17 days to ten, ended same-day registration during the early-voting period and prohibited counting votes cast in the wrong precinct. Straight-party voting also ended.
"They don't talk about all of the provisions that make it harder for North Carolina to participate in the election," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, the Senate's deputy minority leader.
These changes and the pending photo ID mandate have created a rallying cry for opponents of the Republican agenda at the General Assembly, anchoring the "Moral Monday" movement. It's also spawned four separate lawsuits — including three federal cases — that call the measure discriminatory to minority voters.
A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will meet in Charlotte this week to hear arguments on an injunction to prevent elements in the law already implemented in the May primary from being used in the fall election.
"Our lawyers are battling in the courts, and we believe ultimately we will be victorious," the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, one lawsuit plaintiff. "We're deeply concerned about the (voter) suppression that all these laws could cause."
Republicans disagree the broader voting law is discriminatory. They point to numbers from the May primary showing overall black turnout was higher compared to 2010.
Campaign materials on the election law are focusing on voter ID because it's "something that most of the electorate is familiar with" compared to the other rule changes, North Carolina Senate Republican Caucus director Ray Martin said.
"This is common sense, popular legislation and it is part of our record, and we intend on running for re-election on it in the fall," said Josh Thomas, director of the Republican House Caucus.
An Elon University Poll released last week found 68 percent of registered voters and 72 percent of all residents surveyed supporting the new law, as described using the voter ID requirement only.
Those levels of support have remained roughly at the same level in the Elon poll for the past two years. While incredibly favored by Republicans — none of the Elon polls reviewed had GOP support below 94 percent, unaffiliated voters also favored it 3-to-1. Even Democrats were split on it in last week's poll — 49 percent to 48 percent.
Elon poll director Kenneth Fernandez said it may be a smart strategy for Republicans to highlight voter ID to galvanize the GOP base and attract other voters.
"That message is fairly palatable for 70 percent of the population," Fernandez said.