The retired four-star general criticized the bill signed earlier this month by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) just minutes after the governor introduced him to the stage at a CEO forum in the state.

"What it really says to the minority voters is ... 'We really are sort of punishing you,'" Powell said, according to The News and Observer.

The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature would require voters to show government identification when voting, shorten early-voting days, cut off same-day registration and end a program to preregister teens who would be eligible to vote by Election Day. 

"I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote," Powell said. 

Advocates of the law, and similar measures around the country, have argued that the steps are necessary to combat voter fraud. However, Powell pointed out that there are few reported cases of abuse. 

"You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud. How can it be widespread and undetected?" he said. 

Powell has been critical of his party in the past and describes himself as a dying breed of centrist Republicans. He endorsed President Obama in 2012. 

Powell described education as the nation’s greatest problem. His comments coincide with a two-day bus tour Obama started Thursday to tout his plan for college affordability. 

Democrats in the North Carolina — including Sen. Kay HaganKay HaganPolitics is purple in North Carolina Democrats can win North Carolina just like Jimmy Carter did in 1976 North Carolina will be a big battleground state in 2020 MOREhave called on the Justice Department to take action to halt the law. The department announced Thursday it was filing suit to block Texas’s voter ID bill — something Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderFBI director defends agency after Trump attacks: It's an 'honor to represent you' FBI agents fire back at Trump: Saying we're not dedicated is 'simply false' Holder hits back at Trump: The FBI’s reputation is not in 'tatters' MORE had promised — after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act earlier this year.

In a narrow decision, the justices invalidated a portion of the law that required a number of Southern states with a history of voter suppression to clear all new voting regulations with the federal government. 

The court ruled that the criteria are outdated and gave Congress the option of updating it. The Justice Department is using remaining pieces of the law in the Texas case.