S.C. sues feds for blocked voter ID law

ByEric Connor, The Greenville (S.C.) News
February 7, 2012, 8:11 PM

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- South Carolina's chief prosecutor has issued a legal challenge against the federal government's decision to block the state's new voter law that would require a valid government ID to participate in elections.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, state Attorney General Alan Wilson asked a three-judge panel to rule that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder shouldn't be allowed to limit the state's right to enact the law passed in May in what lawmakers said was an effort to ensure the integrity of elections.

"The changes have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority," an attorney hired by Wilson wrote in the complaint.

In December, a Justice Department ruling barred the state from enacting the law, citing the 1965 Voting Rights Act and concerns that new provisions could discourage nearly 82,000 registered minority voters the state has identified as not having any state-issued identification.

South Carolina is among 16 states that the federal government has identified as having a history of discriminatory voting practices.

The federal government requires those states to receive "pre-clearance" from the Justice Department or federal courts before making changes to election laws.

However, Paul Clement, a Washington, D.C., attorney hired by Wilson to handle the case, argued in the complaint that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld similar voter ID laws in Indiana.

The photo identification requirements "are not a bar to voting but a temporary inconvenience no greater than the inconvenience inherent in voting itself," the complaint alleges.

Seven other states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — require government-issued photo IDs to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota request photo IDs, but voters are allowed to cast a ballot if they meet other criteria.

A Texas voter ID law is currently awaiting clearance by the Justice Department.

In a Dec. 23 letter denying South Carolina's request for pre-clearance, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote that the state showed no evidence that voter fraud existed that couldn't be addressed by current state laws.

Since 1988, Wilson's complaint states, South Carolina law has required a state-issued voter registration card and the voter's signature at the polls.

In that same time, the complaint alleges, a photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles would suffice, and the 1988 law received clearance by the Justice Department.

The new law, according to the complaint, allows for five different forms of photo identification: DMV-issued driver's license, DMV-issued non-driver's license identification card, U.S. passport, military ID card or a state voter registration card containing a photo of the voter.

The law allows exemptions for a voter who can't or won't provide a photo ID, including signing an affidavit that states the voter "suffers from a reasonable impediment" preventing the elector from securing a photo ID or "has a religious objection" to being photographed, the complaint states.

In both exceptions, according to the complaint, the voter can then cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted unless the board of registration and elections "has grounds to believe the affidavit is false."

Voters who don't provide an excuse for not having a photo ID can vote, but the vote wouldn't count until they return to the board of registration and elections to provide a photo ID, according to the complaint.

The state will provide free photo ID cards and must keep a list of registered voters who are eligible to vote but don't have a photo ID, the complaint alleges.

The process for absentee voting by mail isn't affected by the new law, according to the complaint.

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