Powell, in a speech at the North Carolina CEO Forum in Raleigh -- an annual gathering of private and public sector executives and managers -- Powell said the state's new voter ID law is not even necessary because there is no evidence of the kind of voter fraud its backers said it was designed to address.
"You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud," he said. "How can it be widespread and undetected?"
The law, set to take effect in 2016, will require voters to show photo ID. It makes dozens of changes beginning this fall that include new restrictions on early voting, absentee voting and voter registration.
North Carolina's legislature, dominated by Republicans, passed the legislation shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, under which the state had been required to get clearance from a court or the U.S. Justice Department for changes in its election law.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said in signing the bill into law it will "help insure the integrity of the North Carolina ballot box and provide greater equality in access to voting to North Carolinians." Critics of the law say it was designed to make it more difficult for voters who tend to favor Democrats -- African-Americans, poor people and students -- to vote.
With McCrory in the audience, Powell said Thursday the law "immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs," newsobserver.com reported.
"What it really says to the minority voters is ... 'We really are sort-of punishing you,'" Powell said.
Acceptable forms of photo identification under the North Carolina law are a valid North Carolina driver's license, a U.S. passport and various military IDs.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday it will file a new lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a voter ID law in Texas, arguing it violates a section of the Voting Rights Act the Supreme Court left stand, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.