BY VICTORIA MIDDLETON
The Post and Courier’s recent editorials applauding the status quo in regulation of our elections — “Don’t drop out of the Electoral College” (Sept. 24); “Reject early voting” (Oct. 8, 2012); “Fair ruling on a fair law” (Oct. 12, 2012) — don’t fully take into account 21st century reality.
We voting rights advocates persist in believing that the expansion of the right to vote (from a small percentage of white males who owned a certain amount of property in the 18th century to include people of color, women, and 18-year-olds) has indeed been progress. Progress shouldn’t stop with this historic expansion of the franchise.
Some traditions are worth holding onto, but ones that impede our right to vote — a right essential to democracy — should be relegated to history.
Why don’t our politicians recognize (as Election Commission professionals do) that it is burdensome to vote only on the first Tuesday of November while our friends in over 30 states nationwide and other advanced countries have far more flexible options for early voting?
Why shouldn’t we consider allowing Election Day registration at the polls, like some other states, to accommodate recent arrivals in South Carolina and voters whose addresses have recently changed?
Why don’t we take more pro-active steps to restore voting rights to the many voters disfranchised by over-incarceration in the last 40 years?
And why doesn’t “one person, one vote” translate to a better, less elitist system than the “winner takes all” of the Electoral College?
Instead of investing in any or all of these reforms, the state spent $3 million, by its own estimate, to defend a Voter ID law that was unfair to a significant group of South Carolina voters — as the state’s own data showed — who lack government-issued photo IDs.
The judges’ Oct. 12 opinion indicated that the law “certainly would have been more restrictive” if the Department of Justice and the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. had not intervened. They halted implementation of the law in its original form and expanded the interpretation of the “reasonable impediments” a voter might face to obtaining a photo ID.
Voters will not have to produce a government-issued photo ID on Election Day this year, nor fear that their votes might be challenged unfairly. Starting in 2013 and afterward, voting without a government-issued photo ID will still be possible, but only by provisional ballot, for those who have valid reasons for not possessing these IDs. We await details on how these provisional ballots will be counted and will monitor to ensure that challenges are indeed rare and fair.
If there is a silver lining in this expenditure of funds to defend an unnecessary statute, it may be that the process shows the continuing importance of the Voting Rights Act.
If South Carolina had not been required by Section V of that Act (which Congress reauthorized most recently in 2006 by an overwhelming margin in a bipartisan vote) to get approval of this change to our voting laws, the Voter ID law might have had a greater discriminatory impact on many voters in our state.
We are glad that South Carolina voters will not face the unnecessary hurdle of producing government-issued photo IDs on Nov. 6 of this year, but our efforts to improve our election process won’t stop with that.
The right of every citizen to have his or her say in how we are governed depends on the right to cast a vote on Election Day.
Victoria Middleton is executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, which is based in Charleston.