The race to the March 19 primary for the 1st Congressional District is under way, with campaigns already in full swing as they try to target voters.

Except it's not the candidates campaigning — it's the state and local election boards, hoping to educate those voters in Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton and Dorchester counties about the state's new voter ID law.

So if you're still not sure what this whole voter ID law means to you, you have three chances next week to find out, and that's just in Charleston County. The Board of Elections and Voter Registration will hold three information sessions Tuesday and Wednesday. Preregister by phone at 744-8683 or by email at

Papers, please

“The way you register to vote has not changed,” said Joseph Debney, executive director of the county elections board. And if you already have a South Carolina driver's license, it won't be any different for you when you show up at the polls.

If you don't have a photo ID, you can get a new voter registration card with a photo from your county voter registration office. You can also use a DMV-issued state ID card, a military ID or a passport.

The State Election Commission in December sent letters to people who are registered to vote but don't have a driver's license, urging them to come get the new voter photo ID. But those letters haven't exactly generated a stampede.

The May 7 special election will offer many students an opportunity to vote for the first time, but it's worth noting that student IDs are not acceptable ID under the law, and that's of particular concern, said Joan Dehne, co-chairwoman of voters' services for the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area.

“They generally are not going to feel the urgency to drive to Headquarters Road to do the voter photo ID,” Dehne said. The league and the election boards will undertake outreach efforts to bring the registration process to the students.

At least the new photo voter ID cards are free, and if you treat yours well, it can literally last you a lifetime, because there's no requirement to update the photo on the card, Dehne said.

That could pose a challenge to the most diplomatic of poll workers.

Why are we doing this?

Of course, this is all to prevent voter fraud, which nobody can prove was a problem in the first place.

So if you feel you are being marginalized, inconvenienced or singled out, it might be because you are.

And the thing is, if you don't have a photo ID, you can still vote, under the reasonable-impediment exception, which includes things like not being able to get a ride to the DMV or having a religious objection to getting your photo taken. You will have to fill out a provisional ballot, and sign an affidavit stating your impediment.

Unfortunately, not wanting to comply with a bureaucratic answer to a nonexistent problem isn't likely to be accepted as a reasonable impediment.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or