S.C. voter ID law painted as larger political picture
Some see South Carolina’s voter ID law and other states’ efforts to tighten early voting as less of an attempt to curb voter fraud than some of the earliest volleys in the 2012 presidential race.
Where voter ID stands
South Carolina’s law requiring voters to bring a picture ID to the polls remains in limbo.
The argument: The U.S. Justice Department, which must approve changes to the state’s elections through the Voting Rights Act, has found that the law discriminated against minority voters.
The Appeal: State officials disagree and have appealed. A panel of three federal judges in Washington is weighing whether the law should take effect or be struck down. Arguments are scheduled for late July, and a ruling could come by mid-September.
The ruling: The ruling will be too late to affect South Carolina’s June 12 primaries, and if the judicial panel upholds the law, it’s still unclear if it could take effect by the Nov. 6 general election. State election officials have said they would need a ruling by Aug. 1 to ensure a smooth implementation this year.
At least that is how the laws were painted by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., as well as NAACP members and union leaders who spoke before more than 100 people at a Tuesday evening rally.
Clyburn said he has visited Florida four times in the past six weeks to work on anti-voter-suppression efforts with the Democratic National Congressional Committee. He noted that national GOP strategist Karl Rove has forecast that President Barack Obama could win South Carolina this fall, and Republicans are fighting to keep this state — and other swing states — in the GOP column.
“They have put in these draconian rules and regulations and laws because they have calculated that if they can suppress the vote by 1 percent in nine different states, we lose the national election in November,” Clyburn said. “That’s their calculation.”
Most experts put the Palmetto State solidly in the Republican column.
William Rivers of Charleston said he showed up for Tuesday’s event at the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall because he shared Clyburn’s concern.
“A lot of people don’t have any (photo) ID to identify themselves,” he said. “What it is all about is to try to get President Obama out of there.”
Obama won his first term in 2008 with record turnout from minority communities in South Carolina and across the nation.
Tuesday’s event in Charleston was organized by the United Steelworkers union and featured politicians and nonpartisan voices discussing the impact of South Carolina’s voter ID law passed last year — a law that requires voters to have a state-issued photo ID to vote.
Currently, voters may identify themselves with their voter registration card, which has no photo. The law has not taken effect and is being challenged in court.
Clyburn said the issue is not whether voters should identify themselves, but what sort of ID the state requires, and whether those requirements are written to limit certain voting blocs.
The U.S. Justice Department, which is blocking South Carolina’s photo ID requirement under the Voting Rights Act, has said the rule discriminates because minority voters here are almost 20 percent less like to have a state-issued photo ID.
Gov. Nikki Haley has called the Justice Department’s decision “outrageous” and has said she will seek “every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.”
This week, South Carolina’s attorneys filed court papers outlining the state’s plans to have acceptable photo IDs issued by state election officials, not just the Department of Motor Vehicles. Such election IDs could be received by presenting only a current voter registration card.
Susan Dunn, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the state, said it remains unclear how much this election ID system will cost and how the state will pay for it and maintain it.
Adding to the confusion is the possibility that such photo voter IDs could be issued on Election Day, but only to voters who registered a month before. “Explaining all this to the public is going to be very, very hard,” Dunn said.
About 200,000 registered voters in South Carolina don’t have a valid state driver’s license, but some may have a military ID or passport, which also could be used to vote, State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.
Also, some of those 200,000 voters may have moved out of state but remain on South Carolina’s voting rolls.
The Rev. Joseph Darby of Morris Brown AME Church, the NAACP and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance said there is no evidence that the state’s current voting system is broken.
Darby said the state voter ID law shows, as Rev. Al Sharpton has said, “James W. Crow Jr. is very much alive and very well and we have to deal with it.”
State Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, also said the law is part of a concerted numbers game across the country to defeat Obama.
“This is not about the integrity of the vote. This is about too many black, brown and poor people voting in 2008,” he said. “They don’t want us to vote. They want to change the direction of this country.”
Others noted that the photo voter ID bill — as with a failed South Carolina bill earlier to try to restrict voter registration drives — has been pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national conservative group whose work is drawing growing scrutiny.
Julie Hussey of the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area said, “A lot of it is really national-level politics that we’re seeing at the state level.”
She said such efforts appear directed at states, such as South Carolina and Texas, where the percentage of eligible adults voting already is relatively small.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.