NORTH CAROLINA – North Carolina, a key battleground state in the forthcoming presidential election, is likely to continue to be in the media spotlight over the coming weeks, says a prominent professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC).

It is hard to see Romney win the election without a victory in the state, says Professor Ferrel Guillory, a political expert from UNC. “It’s not as essential for Obama but by contesting in North Carolina he broadens the electoral map.”

In fact, the Romney campaign is pouring resources into what political observers consider a must-win state for the Republicans. Luther Snyder, a Republican political consultant in the state, commented in an interview with NPR, that in all the years he has covered elections he has never seen this amount of money or resources.

In 2008, Obama carried North Carolina by fewer than 14,000 votes, making him the first Democrat to win the state since 1976. Today, despite higher than average unemployment rates, North Carolina is poised for another close race, says Guillory. “The victory margin [for Obama or Romney] is likely to be a few thousand votes and anything can be the deciding factor.”

Recent polls generally suggest the race in North Carolina is extremely close.

With so much at stake, it is easy to see why political pundits, electoral groups and civil rights activists, are keeping a close eye on the electoral process in crucial swing states, like N.C.. Indeed, one of the main talking points ahead of the election has been the controversial new voter identification laws, as well as strategies used by conservative groups to scrutinize the validity of registration rolls and voters who turn out at the polls.

Civil rights activists and other groups argue that many of these tactics are at best a waste of time, since there is little evidence that voter fraud is a widespread problem. At worse they are viewed as a weapon to disenfranchise and intimidate voters, particularly minorities and the poor, who tend to vote for the Democrats.

A report, for instance, released this month by voting rights groups Demos and Common Cause says robust enforcement of voter protection is needed to prevent attempts to obstruct North Carolina voters from casting their ballot. The study, “Bullies at the Ballot Box” claims Tea Party groups like True the Vote are reportedly seeking to recruit one million volunteers to object to the qualifications of voters in targeted communities in the run up to and on Election Day.

“We are keeping a close eye on the elections and any attempt to suppress the vote, steal the election or segregate the vote through redistricting, will not go unchallenged,” says Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP.

Since the 1960s there have been tactics of division and distortion to suppress and stagnate or deter the right to vote, he adds. “The extreme nature of these tactics started after the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president. The radical conservatives know when the electorate is broad and deep their narrow agenda may not survive the election.”

Barber, nonetheless, says in recent years NAACP and other progressive groups have won significant victories in North Carolina. We successfully campaigned against the voter ID law, we are currently suing the legislature over redistricting, and in 2006 we won the battle for early voting, he says.

“The ultra-conservatives have been mad ever since,” says Barber.

However, Jay DeLancy, director of Voter Integrity Project of North Carolina, an offshoot of True the Vote, told theGrio, that his only agenda is to restore integrity to the elections. “Anybody who suggests that voter integrity is about political party or race is not seeing the bigger picture, which is to bring more transparency to the entire process, for the sake of our Constitutional form of government,” he says.

Last month, the anti-election fraud group created a storm when it said it had compiled a list of 30,000 dead voters registered In North Carolina.  Jay DeLancy, says he is still awaiting validation of his figures but “would be stunned if the final number were below 25k, given our scientific rigor.”

Though, in response to Dalancy’s research, North Carolina Board of Elections spokesperson Veronica Degraffenreid said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer, “People are concerned about voter fraud, but it is proven that we are not finding evidence of that”

“New groups springing up scrutinize the electoral process is nothing new in politics,” says Andra Gillespie, an African-American political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “Is the motivation designed to hurt the Democrats? Perhaps? But both parties play that all the time.”

TheGrio contacted True the Vote but they were unable to comment.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti