The right to vote is an essential element of self-government. But so is the right to have only legal votes count. Balanced election regulations should protect both.
Unfortunately, though, voter identification laws passed in recent years have been divisively - and inaccurately - condemned as a means to "disenfranchise" minority participation in the democratic process.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said of voter ID laws in 2012: "We call those poll taxes."
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., has even called them "the new Jim Crow laws of our times."
Such overwrought rhetoric doesn't just insult those who passed such legislation. It insults those who long ago faced real Jim Crow disenfranchisement.
South Carolina's law mandates free voter registration cards with photos at county election offices for those who lack any of the other four forms of photo ID. More than 23,000 of those cards have been produced since they became available in late 2012.
And South Carolina's voter ID law evidently passed its first statewide test for fairness in the June 10 primaries.
S.C. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire told The Associated Press in a story that ran in The Post and Courier recently: "We don't hear complaints about not being able to vote or being disenfranchised or general complaints about the new photo ID requirements."
Under the law, registered voters who lack photo ID can cast a paper ballot on a provisional basis after signing an affidavit asserting that a "reasonable impediment" prevented them from getting one.
The AP reported that while the exact number of provisional ballots cast in the June 10 primaries wasn't clear, "A total of 18 were cast in the 18 counties that responded to a survey ... [and] seven of those counties reported no one voted that way, according to the Election Commission."
And out of nearly 453,000 votes cast on June 10, only 44 votes in the 39 counties reporting were not counted because the voter didn't produce a valid photo ID.
Maybe some Republicans in and beyond South Carolina had political motives in backing voter ID bills, assuming that they would produce lower participation by minority voters, who generally support Democrats. But the evidence so far is that voter ID doesn't do that. In Georgia, for instance, minority turnout increased after that state implemented a new voter ID law in 2008.
Yes, as Brett Bursey, director of the S.C. Progressive Network, pointed out to the AP, our state's voter ID law was revised in 2012, during a court fight with the Justice Department, to allow those provisional ballots.
And, no, one low-turnout primary isn't a sufficient measure of the law's long-term effects in South Carolina.
But as for the familiar refrain that voter fraud is not a serious problem, numerous cases undermine that argument. For instance, according to the New York Daily News, 61 undercover agents from that city's Department of Investigation went to 63 polling places last fall and falsely identified themselves in the names of dead or relocated voters. Only two were turned away from voting. In 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law by a 6-3 margin, it recognized not just a state's right but a state's duty to protect the integrity of the election process.
Photo IDs are now needed across a wide range, including boarding an airliner and buying some sinus medications. In this modern era, verifying of a voter's identity with a freely provided photo ID is not an excessive requirement.
And it certainly isn't a revival of Jim Crow.
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