COLUMBIA — The U.S. Justice Department has turned down South Carolina’s voter identification law for a second time as the state’s lawsuit against the federal government moves forward.
“I remain unable to conclude that the State of South Carolina has carried its burden of showing that the submitted change in Section 5 of Act R54 neither has a discriminatory purpose nor will have a discriminatory effect,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez wrote in a letter Friday to an attorney representing South Carolina in its lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sued Holder after the federal government blocked South Carolina’s photo ID requirement in December, saying it could keep tens of thousands of the state’s minorities from casting ballots. It was the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.
The Justice Department officials has said the law failed to meet requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires approval from that agency for changes to South Carolina’s election laws because of the state’s past failure to protect blacks’ voting rights.
Section 5 of the South Carolina law is the requirement that all voters in South Carolina present a government-issued picture ID when they cast their votes. After reviewing additional information, including experts’ reports filed as part of the lawsuit, Perez said that he still found the ID requirement to be discriminatory.
The law also requires the state to determine how many voters lack state-issued IDs so that the State Election Commission can inform them of the new law. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue free state photo identification cards to those voters. Perez said he felt it would be premature to clear those sections of the law while the ID requirement remains unapproved.
“Preclearing plans and procedures such as these at this time could only confuse both voters and election administrators,” Perez wrote.
A panel of three federal judges is set to consider Wilson’s case later this month in federal court in Washington. The South Carolina prosecutor’s office didn’t immediately comment on the letter Monday.
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