william_barber_4.jpgRALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina civil rights advocates and clergy said Friday that Republican legislative leaders are intent on denying voting rights to the poor and minorities through legislation to scale back early voting and other efforts to require photo identification to cast ballots.

Speakers representing several groups, led by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, attended a news conference to condemn bills filed this week by GOP legislators to limit early voting.

The bills would reduce 21/2-week early voting periods before primary and general elections by one week and halt same-day voter registration during those periods. The House bill also would eliminate Sunday voting, end straight-party balloting and make all judicial races partisan.

Referencing Easter in his comments, state NAACP President the Rev. William Barber said Republican lawmakers in charge of the General Assembly are seeking to manipulate election laws for their own partisan gain and at the loss of groups historically discouraged from voting.

"The legislature is trying to crucify voting rights in this state,'' Barber said at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, adding that his allies will sue if such measures become law. "We believe that they have overreached constitutionally, and we will test in the court everything that they do.''

Early voting is popular, 56 percent of the 4.5 million ballots cast in November's election occurred at one-stop early voting sites. Same-day voter registration began in 2007. More than 250,000 people used the process during the 2012 election, disproportionately by young people, black residents and Democrats, said Bob Hall with Democracy North Carolina.

"It's really a blatant partisan maneuver,'' said Hall, adding that the House legislation also would make it easier to request mail-in absentee ballots, whose users historically have leaned Republican. That proposal could encourage voter fraud, he said.

House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, the House bill's primary sponsor, told WRAL-TV the legislation would "put some balance into the election process'' and said he opposed Sunday voting because "some things you just shouldn't do on Sundays.''

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, the Senate bill primary sponsor, said the measure isn't meant to be partisan and that all voters will still have equal access to the polls.

The House agreed in 2011 to reduce the number of days in the early voting period, but the bill didn't pass the Senate.

Legislative leaders have sounded more interested so far this year in passing a law requiring photo identification to vote. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory supports stronger voter ID requirements. The Barber and his allies also are opposed to new photo ID requirements. House Republicans want to pass such a measure in April.

"It's simply wrong and unconstitutional to restrict in any way the rights of citizens to vote,'' the Rev. Nancy Petty, Pullen Baptist's pastor, said at the news conference.

*Pictured above is North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber.