COLUMBIA -- South Carolina residents who want to avoid Election Day lines would be limited to three days of early voting under changes approved Wednesday to a bill that also would require voters to show photo ID.
Under changes approved by the House, voters could show up early to cast a ballot only on the Thursday through Saturday before elections. The bill as approved by the Senate allowed for 12 days.
Currently, people can vote in person up to a month early if they give an excuse for why they can't on Election Day. The Senate compromise approved in February allowed that to continue. But the House again struck that option Wednesday to allow such absentee voting only by mail.
Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said the GOP felt the two-week window of early voting was too much time, in case information came out late that would change voters' minds.
"The further away you get from voting day, the less information a voter has about the election," said Clemmons, chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on election laws. "Once you cast a ballot in early voting, you can't uncast it."
The bill is far from final pass-age.
The Senate is not expected to agree to Wednesday's changes. That would send the bill to conference committee, where legislators from both chambers would attempt to hash out the differences.
The GOP amendment followed hours of debate that killed scores of Democrats' proposed changes, including to broaden the early voting period.
Democrats roundly condemned the latest version as making it harder for people to vote.
They also fought the bill's requirement that people show a photo ID to cast a ballot, saying it would suppress the vote of minority, disabled and poor residents who don't have such ID. They noted many voters catch rides to the polls, especially in rural areas with no public transportation. And they accused Republicans of making the changes in response to the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, which saw record turnout of blacks.
But Republicans countered that in a post-Sept. 11 world, everyone should be accustomed to flashing an ID, whether to board a plane, cash a check or buy cough medicine. They called it an issue of voter integrity. Currently, voters can present either a valid driver's license or a voter registration card. Without a photo, Republicans say, there's no proof the person showing the card is who they claim to be.
Roughly 180,000 of South Carolina's registered voters have neither a state-issued driver's license or photo ID, according to the state Election Commission.
The bill waives the $5 fee for a state ID for residents older than 17, which is expected to initially cut revenue to the South Carolina Department of Transportation by hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a February 2009 estimate from state budget advisers. An estimate several months later on the then-Senate version expected additional costs for voter education, poll workers and a system to track early voters.
Democrats lambasted Republicans as passing a bill that further reduces state revenue during a budget crisis in which agencies are being slashed.
Any change to South Carolina election law must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. If approved, the changes would likely not take effect until the 2012 elections.