Voter ID law hits black areas: 1,977 nonwhite voters lack state-issued photo
COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's new voter photo identification law appears to be hitting black precincts in the state the hardest, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
For instance, nearly half the voters who cast ballots at a historically black college in Columbia lack state-issued photo identification and could face problems voting in next year's presidential election, according to the analysis of precinct-level data provided by the State Election Commission.
The U.S. Justice Department has been reviewing the law for months under the federal Voting Rights Act.
South Carolina's photo identification law requires people to show a South Carolina driver's license or identification card, a military ID or passport when they vote. Without those forms of identification, they can still cast a provisional ballot or vote absentee.
The analysis shows that among the state's 2,134 precincts, there are 10 where nearly all of the law's affect falls on nonwhite voters who don't have a state- issued driver's license or ID card, a total of 1,977 voters.
The same holds true for white voters in a number of precincts, but the overall effect is much more spread out and involves fewer total voters: There are 44 precincts where only white voters are affected, or 1,831 people in all.
The precinct that votes at Benedict College's campus center has 2,790 voters, including nine white voters. In that precinct, 1,343 of the precinct's nonwhite voters lack state identification, but only five white voters do. The former group accounts for 48 percent of the precinct's voters.
Karen Rutherford has run voter registration efforts at the college for years. She said students had a tough time in the 2008 election as their IDs were challenged at the precinct. "A lot of the things they were doing were incorrect because they didn't want our students to vote," Rutherford said. "They were upset because someone was trying to take away their ability to vote."
Rutherford, whose son serves in the Legislature, said students have a tough time getting copies of birth certificates the state requires for ID cards and the law isn't needed. Even supporters of the legislation could not point to an instance of someone using another person's ID to vote twice. "Why we are doing this? It wasn't necessary," Rutherford said.
Benedict is not alone.
A precinct at South Carolina State University has 2,305 active voters, including 33 white voters. There, 800 nonwhite voters and 17 white voters there lack state IDs. More than a third of the voters in the precinct lack state photo identification.
State Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said numbers show how bad the law is.
"This is electoral genocide," Harpootlian said. "This is disenfranchising huge groups of people who don't have the money to go get an ID card."
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said results show the work ahead for the state.
"It means they would have to take some action to get proper ID," Whitmire said.
They'll still be able to vote absentee by mail, go to voter offices and get new voter registration cards with pictures or cast provisional ballots that require them to later produce the ID.
The state is offering free ID cards. To get those, people have to show documents that include their name, such as birth certificates, marriage or divorce records.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley supports the law and offered voters without IDs free rides to state offices to get them last month.
The state law requires the commission to develop a list of names of people who lack state-issued identification. And the Justice Department has asked the state to document how it will reach out to those voters.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Hartsville Democrat, has been working to keep the Justice Department from approving the legislation. "This type of analysis should have been done prior to submission to the Justice Department," Malloy said.
Previously-reported statewide numbers suggested that, overall, the law's impact would roughly affect white and nonwhite voters proportionally: 70 percent of the state's 2.7 million registered voters are white and 30 percent are non-white; 66 percent of the 216,596 active, registered voters without state-issued photo IDs are white and 34 percent nonwhite.
But stepping below the state-level numbers offers a much different picture: Lacking state-issued IDs are 11,087 nonwhite voters in Richland County, 5,385 in Charleston County and 4,544 in Orangeburg County. That means half the voters affected by the law in Richland County aren't white and in Orangeburg County it's 73 percent.
Whitmire said the state is preparing a new round of data for the Justice Department. Once that is submitted, the agency will have up to 60 days to respond. South Carolina's election law changes have to be cleared by federal authorities because of past voting rights abuses.