What has and hasnt changed for S.C. voting in 2012
BY BARBARA ZIA and PEGGY BROWN
The television ads, yard signs and phone calls of election season can be an annoying distraction. However, underlying this background noise is the most important responsibility that citizens have ó voting to select the best leaders for our communities, states and nation. The League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC) has been involved in educating and registering voters for many decades. This election season stands out for the unusually widespread confusion that we have found among voters across our state.
However, at present nothing has changed about the laws that determine how we register to vote in South Carolina. There has been publicity about a new law in Florida that made it very difficult to conduct community voter registration drives there. A similar bill was introduced in South Carolina, but failed to pass. In South Carolina registration can proceed normally until Saturday ó the legal deadline before the November election. Patriotic volunteers from the League, churches, high schools, colleges and a wide range of other organizations will continue to register voters as an important part of our public service.
The LWVSC wants to increase the number of college students who participate in the election process, but first, students must register to vote. The numbers tell the story. While 67 percent of the voting-age population is registered, fewer than 51 percent of college students are registered to vote according to the U.S. Federal Election Commission.
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 mandates that colleges and universities that participate in federal student loan programs provide voter registration applications for their students. LWVSCís website, http://lwvsc.org/vote_college.html, outlines the options that students have. Students who wish to vote in their home community must be registered there and may vote absentee.
At present nothing has changed about the process of actually voting in S.C., but it is possible that there will be a significant change before the Nov. 6 election. South Carolina has passed a law that requires a current valid government issued photo ID of a limited number of types in order to vote in person.
However, any change in South Carolinaís election laws must be pre-cleared by the federal government under the provisions of Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) refused pre-clearance of the voter ID law on grounds that it is discriminatory toward minority citizens. Thus the voter ID law is not in effect at present.
South Carolinaís attorney general has challenged DOJís decision in federal district court. This case has not been decided, though a ruling is expected soon.
If the court turns the law down, nothing will have changed in our voting process for this election. All who are registered to vote in South Carolina will be able to vote on Nov. 6 when they present the same identification that they have used in the past: the plain non-photo S.C .Voter Registration Card (blue registration card), a S.C. Driverís License, or a S.C. DMV-issued ID card.
If the court approves putting the photo ID requirement into effect for this election, then a current and valid S.C. driverís license, a S.C. DMV-issued ID card, U.S. military ID or passport, or a photo ID issued by the county elections office will be needed in order to vote in person. A student ID or an expired photo ID will not be acceptable. More detailed information is available in a brochure that may be downloaded from the LWVSC website at http://lwvsc.org/files/save_all_votes_july_2012.pdf.
For some people, obtaining appropriate ID will be difficult. At present the best advice that the League can give is to be sure you are registered to vote now. If photo ID goes into effect, you can later obtain a photo ID for free at your county elections office by presenting your blue voter registration card or last four digits of your Social Security number. If you believe that you will have difficulty getting to that office and are eligible for absentee voting, apply now for a mail-in absentee ballot, which will not require photo ID.
Some supporters of this law have expressed concern about voter fraud if the court refuses to allow South Carolina to implement photo ID. They should be reassured to know that there are no recorded instances of in-person voter impersonation fraud in South Carolina.
Nationally, the incidence of in-person voter fraud is lower than that of being hit by lightning. This is far less threatening to the integrity of our elections than defective voting machines or other weaknesses in the elections system that are not the consequence of intentional fraud.
Detailed information on current registration and voting requirements, as well as information about changes that could take place if the courts approve photo ID for the November election, can be found at http://lwvsc.org/vote. The website also provides all the information that you need in order to conduct your own voter registration drive. The League is available to help with voter registration drives and additional information and guidance, and can be reached at League@lwvsc.org or 803-251-2726.
Barbara Zia and Peggy Brown are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.