Voter ID requirement

South Carolina’s voter ID law was unanimously upheld in the fall by a three-judge federal panel that said the show-of-proof requirement would not diminish voting rights of minorities. The argument was that people who face a “reasonable impediment” to getting an acceptable photo ID can still vote if they sign an affidavit attesting that getting such an ID was too cumbersome.Otherwise, acceptable forms of photo ID include a driver’s license, military ID, passport, or DMV- or election office-issued ID card.

BRANCHVILLE — Mariah Pryor is 85 years old and remembers when black residents weren’t allowed to vote.

But even with the recent talk and fears of being disenfranchised under the state’s new voter ID law, she says the requirement is good if it puts to rest any debate over who’s eligible.

“People don’t know if I’m Mariah Pryor or not Mariah Pryor,” she said, adding that no one can be sure about “Adam’s house cat” on Election Day without first showing legal proof.

South Carolina’s first test of its voter ID requirement seemingly went without incident or a hitch Tuesday in Orangeburg County during a special election to fill a vacant seat on the local town council.

More than 120 people turned out during the 12 hours of voting, with most mechanically providing their driver’s license at the check-in table when asked to show photographic evidence of who they are.

Vivian Fogle, 57, was among the first black residents filing into the polling place. She had no problem with being made to show her ID, saying the requirement is just another part of everyday life. “I think it’s great because voting is not paper-and-pencil anymore,” she said.

Yet not all of Tuesday’s voters were as accepting. Charles Bamberg, 70, also a black resident of Branchville, said he remembers a lot of people before him had fought for the right to vote, and that it still remains a sacred right. “It’s a hurdle in a way,” he said of the requirement, “but we’ll get over it.”

The Legislature’s photo ID law officially took effect Jan. 1 after a federal court review and a bitter partisan fight in the Statehouse. Republicans argued the change would curb instances of fraud, while Democrats said South Carolina has found little evidence of voter fraud or that it’s even a problem in the state. They contend the effect would be to suppress participation among minorities, the elderly and the poor.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s vote was closely monitored by Washington, D.C., as two representatives of the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights and voting division were on site watching the day unfold. Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP, all of which had raised criticisms about the ID requirement, were not seen at the town’s lone polling site during the first half of the day.

Branchville resident Gayle Ott was the election’s lead-off voter. She seemed shy at her sudden political celebrity but said she did not find pulling out her driver’s license to be an inconvenience.

“We’ve always had to show a piece of paper, so I didn’t see any difference,” Ott said, referring to the blue-colored voter-registration card that previously had been in play.

If there was an issue Tuesday, it was from the several people who showed up not knowing the new requirement was in effect and had left their photo IDs in their cars.

“It’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said one elderly woman who had to go back and retrieve hers.

Under the new law there does remain an option to vote without an ID.

People in that circumstance can still vote after signing an affidavit attesting they faced a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID, such as a disability, illness or work schedule.

In those cases, the voter could cast a provisional, paper ballot that would be reviewed for counting later. None of those voters had surfaced by Tuesday afternoon.

While Tuesday’s vote was the first official test of the ID requirement, the first big and local Charleston area use will be the March 19 special primary and May election to fill the five-county 1st Congressional District vacancy created when Tim Scott was chosen by Gov. Nikki Haley as the state’s new U.S. senator.

Meanwhile, results were pending late Tuesday for the three candidates on the Branchville ballot to fill the council vacancy. The candidates included Charlene Norris Negron, Sammie Whisenhunt and Luvenia Williams.

All three are vying to fill the remainder of the term of Glenn Miller, who became mayor after Tim Cooner died during the summer.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.