UPDATED 5:41 P.M.: North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law on Monday a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, making it the first state to enact new voting restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of a Civil Rights-era law designed to protect minority voters.
"Common practices like boarding an airplane and purchasing Sudafed require photo ID," McCrory said in a statement. "And we should expect nothing less for the protection of our right to vote."
His action was followed immediately by a challenge to the new law, filed in a U.S. district court in North Carolina by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
The lawsuit challenges parts of the law that end same-day registration and shorten early voting, but does not address the photo ID requirement.
The law passed the Republican-majority North Carolina General Assembly in late July among a number of other measures championed by conservatives such as restrictions on abortion.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has threatened federal government action against states that seek to curb voting access in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That law was passed during the Civil Rights era to force states in the U.S. South with a history of racial discrimination, such as North Carolina, to meet certain tests of fairness in access to voting.
In addition to the ID, the new North Carolina measure reduces by a week the amount of time voters can cast early ballots before election day.
It also bans election-day voter registration, as well as the practice of straight-ticket voting, in which a voter is allowed to cast a ballot for every candidate in a single party with just one vote, instead of voting on every candidate individually.
The law also includes two measures Democrats say are aimed at discouraging young people, who tend to vote Democratic, from casting ballots. College and university photo IDs will not be acceptable as a voter ID, and the law eliminates a program allowing 16- and 17-year-olds in high school to pre-register to vote.
"This is a naked attempt to predetermine election outcomes by making it harder for certain people to vote: poor people, people of color, elderly people and young people," Allison Riggs, a lawyer specializing on voting rights with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told lawmakers during the debate on the bill.
Republicans took control of the North Carolina state legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, passing the voter ID measure along with a host of conservative laws that have sparked "Moral Monday" protests at the state Capitol building for months.
Supporters say the law eliminates voter fraud and standardizes elections across the state.
Ten states have already enacted laws that require photo identification to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and North Carolina is among a dozen states that have considered or adopted new laws this year.
The law will not go into effect until 2016, which means it will not affect the key race involving Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan seeking reelection, the outcome of which could help determining whether Republicans or Democrats hold a majority in the U.S. Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama's term.
North Carolina will launch an education campaign in 2014 on the new law and implement it for the presidential elections in 2016.