Lawmakers eye 2 more strict voting rules
Undaunted by the ongoing legal tussle over voter ID, South Carolina lawmakers are looking at two other steps that could make it more difficult to vote here.
Republican legislators have introduced bills that would require those holding voter registration drives to register with the state and those registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship.
Barbara Zia, president of the South Carolina League of Women Voters, said the league opposes both bills, but is particularly concerned about new rules for voter registration drives, which include fines of up to $1,000 for groups that make mistakes.
"It's going to make it difficult or virtually impossible for the League of Women Voters to continue to register voters in South Carolina," she said. "The effect would be to suppress the vote."
The voter-registration-drive bill recently passed the House Judiciary Committee in a vote that broke down partisan lines.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, filed the bill. He did not return messages left Friday.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, voted against it, calling it "the worst kind of big government in the world."
"People who want to organize politically now would have to go report and register their activity with the government and conduct those actions with the approval of government or get fined," he said. "That's bizarre and un-American in my book."
The bill would levy a $50 fine for anyone who turns in a voter registration application to their local elections office more than 48 hours after it was completed. The fine would rise to $250 if that happened on purpose.
There would be a $100 fine for each application collected before the voter registration deadline, but handed in after that date. This fine would rise to $500 for each application if this was deliberately done.
And the bill calls for $500 fines for each application collected that is not turned into a county voter registration office -- $1,000 if done on purpose.
The State Election Commission doesn't keep statistics on problems stemming from voter registration drives, and it's also unsure of how much it would cost to register and monitor groups holding such drives, spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
Whitmire said those who hold such drives do a great public service, though he has talked to people on Election Day who thought they had registered to vote but weren't on the rolls.
"That has happened more than once," he said.
"The one thing I do say to voters about voter registration drives is before you put your right to vote in the hands of someone else, you better make sure you trust them," he said, adding that registration forms include personal information such as name, address, date of birth and Social Security number.
The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area registers between 1,200 and 1,500 voters per year in Charleston County alone, at high schools, special events and naturalization ceremonies, said Joan Dehne, the league's voters service co-chair.
She noted that Florida recently passed a similar, even stricter law, and the league stopped its voters drive there. "You just can't take that kind of risk as an organization," Dehne said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, is a lead sponsor of a separate Senate bill that would require voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship when they register.
He said he got the idea from Georgia, whose similar law was approved by the U.S. Justice Department's Voting Rights Division, the same division that's currently blocking the state's voter ID law.
Currently, those registering to vote must sign a statement saying they are a citizen, but no proof is required.
"That's like leaving your front door open for anyone who wants to walk in and take what they want," Campsen said. "If you're an illegal in this country, you lied to get here, you lied to stay here and you would lie to cast a vote as well, if you wanted to affect our political process."
Zia said the Senate bill poses the same problem as the voter ID bill, which requires voters to show a state-issue photo identification at the ballot box. Such an ID can be obtained only with a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship.
"For those who don't have birth certificates or can't access them or can't afford them, it's going to be the same problem," she said.