S.C. voter idea survived its legal challenge

A voter leaves the polls in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, after voting in the South Carolina primary runoff. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

COLUMBIA — A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a North Carolina law that requires photo identification when voting in person. Justices said it was enacted with discriminatory intent, but their ruling will have no implications on South Carolina voters.

The voter identification law implemented in South Carolina in 2013 already has been amended by the court to require the state to accept almost any “reasonable impediment” that voters offered as a reason why they didn’t have ID.

“A federal court has already upheld South Carolina’s voter ID law, and it has since been implemented effectively,” said Hayley Thrift, spokeswoman for the S.C. Attorney General’s Office. “The Attorney General’s Office successfully defended our law in 2012 as it was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Haley. Our law remains valid and in effect.”

University of South Carolina School of Law professor Bob Bockman agreed that the state’s law would remain intact unless there were new developments.

“North Carolina was more restrictive — or imposed more restrictions — on the ability of persons to register to vote than we do here,” Bockman said. “Unless there was some litigation and the court found those provisions in the South Carolina law unconstitutional, the procedure we have now would stay in place.”

Thrift said there are no pending lawsuits against South Carolina’s voter ID law.

The opinion on North Carolina’s law, from a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, said it was created with discriminatory intent by the state’s new Republican-led government.

“We recognize that elections have consequences, but winning an election does not empower anyone in any party to engage in purposeful racial discrimination,” the panel said. “When a legislature dominated by one party has dismantled barriers to African American access to the franchise, even if done to gain votes, ‘politics as usual’ does not allow a legislature dominated by the other party to re-erect those barriers.”

The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued North Carolina, saying the restrictions violated the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

The North Carolina voter ID mandate, which took effect with this year’s March primary, required voters to show one of six qualifying IDs, although those with “reasonable impediments” could fill out a form and cast a provisional ballot.

The laws approved by the N.C. General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also reduced early voting from 17 to 10 days, eliminated same-day registration during early voting and barred the counting of Election Day ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

Plaintiffs had argued the changes discourage voting by black and Hispanic residents, who use early voting and same-day registration more than white voters and are more likely to lack photo ID.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.