COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley’s gender and race earn her a lot of important designations, but state Democrats say she disowned one of those defining characteristics in 2001.
Haley — South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor — listed her race as “white” on her 2001 voter registration card.
The state Democratic Party, which first obtained the public record, is calling Haley out on the matter and challenging whether her inconsistency on the card might have made her ineligible to voter under the state's new Voter ID law.
Dick Harpootlian, the party chairman, said whether Haley listed her race as white or not doesn’t really matter to him, but the issue is that the governor has shown a pattern of such actions.
“Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her,” Harpootlian said. “When she registers to vote she says she is white. She has developed a pattern of saying whatever is beneficial to her at the moment.”
As another example, Harpootlian said Haley listed her previous employer as the Lexington Medical Center Foundation on her ethics disclosure forms when she was actually paid by the hospital. The discrepancy seems inconsequential, Harpootlian said, but the difference between the two calls into question other ethics laws on the books.
The 2001 voter card was the only one on file in the Lexington County voter registration office, according to the Democratic Party. The voter registration office in her home county of Bamberg did not have an application on file for her. It’s not clear if Haley had declared her race differently on any earlier voter registration applications.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions on the matter, including why Haley declared her race as white and what her legal name was in 2001. Haley was born Nimrata Randhawa to Indian immigrants parents.
Haley signed the law requiring for photo identification at the polls in May, but it won’t go into effect unless the U.S. Department of Justice approves it. The law requires voters to present a picture ID when they vote. Republicans say the law is aimed at eliminating voter fraud in the state. Democrats say it will stop people from voting.
Haley said at the time that the law continues “to improve South Carolina in terms of integrity, accountability and transparency. ... If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote.”
The state Election Commission gives people the choice of declaring their race as white, black/African-America, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other, the agency’s spokesman Chris Whitmire said. The commission doesn’t attempt to verify a person’s race, but that data is used by Justice Department to enforce fair voting practices. Collecting the information is a requirement of state law, Whitmire said.
If a person checks “other,” he or she is asked to specify.
Whitmire said he knows of no state election law, nor a definition by the state Election Commission, for the term "white."
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “Caucasian” as the “characteristic of a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia and classified according to physical features — used especially in referring to persons of European descent having usually light skin pigmentation.”
South Carolina is under extra scrutiny for its voting laws and procedures because of the state’s past discriminatory voting practices.
Whitmire said a person swears the information on his or her voter registration application is true when signing the form. People can use a driver’s license or documents such as a bank statement or pay stub to prove their identity.
Democrats raised questions about Haley's use of "Nikki" as her first name and whether she had changed her first name legally from her birth name. But Whitmire said such a discrepancy likely wouldn't prevent a person from voting. If a person can use a nickname to obtain a voter registration card, but that name doesn't match a legal name on a driver's license, it would probably only raise a question but would not disqualify a vote, he said.
Harpootlian said Haley is going to make about 180,000 registered voters without a driver’s license obtain state-issued photo ID, yet “she can’t get her own voter issues straight.”