SC Sues Obama Administration Over Voter ID Law
In an action bearing major implications for voting rights in South Carolina and across the country, yesterday South Carolina’s attorney general sued the Obama Administration for blocking the state’s new voter identification law. The Department of Justice announced in December that it would halt the South Carolina law, signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley in May, because it found the law would disproportionately block minority voters from voting.
Due to a history of discriminatory practices, South Carolina is one of several states whose voting and elections laws must be approved by the Department of Justice. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires the DOJ to “pre-clear” new election laws in covered states, counties, and districts to ensure the new rules do not discriminate based on race, color, or language.
“Nothing in this law prevents anyone from voting if they cannot immediately show a valid photo identification,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement, referring to a provision that allows those without an ID to cast their ballots after signing an affidavit attesting to their identity. However, what Wilson neglects to mention is that the affidavit ballots would not be counted if the individual does not return to a government office within a set number of days with a valid ID.
According to the state’s complaint in the lawsuit, photo ID requirements are a “temporary inconvenience no greater than the inconvenience inherent in voting itself.” But this statement clearly does not reflect reality for thousands of poor and elderly individuals who do not drive and lack drivers’ licenses, as well as young voters who rely on their school IDs as their main form of photo identification. Obtaining a government-issued ID would be burdensome for too many, involving coordinating transportation to and from the DMV or municipal office, arriving during the open hours, and waiting in long lines with no place to sit. Photo ID is also expensive: Under the South Carolina law, taxpayers would have to cover the cost of being able to obtain IDs for free at the tune of $460,000 of state funds upfront, plus an additional $260,000 yearly.
South Carolina lawmakers who support the voter ID laws claim that these laws will limit occurrences of voter fraud; in reality, however, voter fraud is hardly an issue in state or federal elections. Instead, in attempting to fix a problem that does not exist, the laws discourage or block eligible citizens from casting their votes, especially poor, young, and minority voters. In its examination of the South Carolina law a few months ago using data supplied by the state, the Justice Department found that minority registered voters are 20% more likely than white voters to lack the appropriate identification that would be required under the new law. That trend translates into 81,938 minority South Carolinians who are currently registered to vote but do not have such identification, meaning those voters are at a high risk for being disenfranchised under the new law.
South Carolina is a clear example of the problem with overly restrictive voting and elections laws, including ID requirements, which have been considered by dozens of state legislatures across the country in the past year alone. As the November elections draw closer, it is important that these laws be exposed for what they are and struck down by courts or the federal government.
Image courtesy of Politico.