COLUMBIA — Supporters and opponents of South Carolina’s voter ID law both claimed some form of victory Wednesday after the measure was cleared starting in 2013 but blocked from next month’s elections.
A three-judge panel in Washington unanimously approved the law, but decided there wasn’t enough time to fairly put the law in place before Election Day on Nov. 6.
The federal judges wrote that there was no discriminatory intent behind the law and that it wouldn’t hurt blacks’ voting rights.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, attributed the decision to delay to the short timeline and the many steps needed to properly implement the law and its “reasonable impediment” provision.
The procedure will allow voters who do not have one of five forms of acceptable ID — an S.C. driver’s license, an S.C. DMV photo ID card, a passport, a federal military photo ID or a new free photo voter-registration card — to cast a ballot by signing an affidavit briefly explaining why they don’t have one of those IDs.
Those voters still must have a traditional non-photo voter-registration card in order to vote. The reasonable impediment procedures were expanded during the course of the federal hearing, and were not as broad when the voter ID law was blocked by the U.S. Department of Justice in December.
The measure was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in May 2011, but the Justice Department said the law would disproportionately affect minority voters. The state sued the Justice Department in February.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said Wednesday he was satisfied with the judges’ ruling. He said it was his job to get the voter ID law cleared, not to get it passed for a specific race or election. “I’ve done my job and the staffers in our office have done their job,” he said.
Wilson estimated that his office spent $3 million on outside legal counsel to help his staff attorneys represent the state in its lawsuit against the federal government.
Haley framed the judges’ decision as another victory in the state’s series of battles with the federal government.
“What this says is the people’s voice is loud,” she said. “It will continue to be loud. South Carolina will continue to be a state that fights, and South Carolina will continue to be a state that wins.”
Republican legislators also praised the decision.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston, who was among the many state officials to testify at the federal hearing, said the ruling ensures that the state’s elections will remain fair, free and safely accessible to all South Carolinians.
“At the heart of democracy is the right to vote,” he said in a statement. “If we do not protect our voting right from fraud and abuse, we are not protecting the very ideals of democracy.”
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said in a statement that the party was disappointed by the federal ruling. He said the state spent millions in taxpayer funds on “this cure in search of a disease.”
S.C. Republicans backed the law in 2011 by saying it was needed to prevent voter fraud. To date, there is no evidence that widespread voter impersonation or multiple-vote fraud exist in the Palmetto State.
Other Democrats were fine with the ruling.
Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg said Democrats are not opposed to “people being who they say they are when they show up” to vote. Hutto said Democrats wanted to make sure a voter ID law would allow people without an acceptable photo ID to be grandfathered in, and he said the law now does that.
Barbara Zia is the co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, which was among the parties opposing the voter ID law in the federal hearing.
Zia said the judges’ decision is “a victory for voting rights in South Carolina” because of the expansion of the reasonable impediment provision.
The Justice Department also claimed credit for forcing “broad modifications” to the state’s original law.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined comment on whether the agency plans to appeal the judges’ ruling.
An attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice, which helped represent the groups opposed to the state’s voter ID law, said the center does not plan to appeal.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.