Is the S.C. Primary At Risk of Voter Fraud?
Some officials suggest elections officials be on alert, others say not so fast.
Amid recent allegations of voter fraud in recent S.C. elections some state officials say elections officials should be on high alert during the primary, but others say further evidence is needed.
"It should be noted that state officials will be closely monitoring the primary election," S.C. State Attorney General Alan Wilson said.
On Wednesday Wilson requested an investigation by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division into findings that suggest votes were cast under the names of 900 deceased individuals. Some state officials say the findings have serious and negative implications for the Jan. 21 state primary election.
"The information brought to light causes concern for this election, and those yet to come, until steps like Voter ID are implemented," Wilson said.
Concern among those who support the state voter ID legislation has been reinforced by a controversial video taken at New Hampshire polling places while phony voters sought ballots for deceased individuals.
As for the recent report of evidence discovered by Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo that alleges 900 cases of voter fraud, some say the timing is suspicious.
"It's amazingly convenient that they are coming up with this now," Charleston Democratic Party Chairman George Tempel said. "I'd like to see that data, I just don't believe it."
Wilson announced on Tuesday that the state was in the process of filing suit against the U.S. Department of Justice for rejecting the state's voter ID law which would require show a valid state-approved photo ID in order to cast a ballot. On Wednesday Wilson released a statement announcing the discovery of the voter fraud cases.
"If it were real, wouldn't the State Attorney General have investigated this much earlier," Tempel said. He said the allegations of fraud were made years ago but he finds it suspicious the evidence surfaced only recently.
Despite the State Elections Commission support for the investigation, Chris Whitmire, director of public information and training, said more evidence is needed.
"We'd be very surprised if that claim was true," Whitmire said. "We have to take such a claim to heart, but there could be a problem with the data."
Whitmire said the SEC has not seen any evidence of the alleged fraud and says until they do, no steps will be taken to address the voting process.
"The statewide voter registration system has been around since 1968," Whitmire said. "There are inherent issues with the system and the data in the system isn't perfect."
Whitmire explained that allegations of voter fraud have been made in the past, but as it stands there has never been any formal evidence that supports those claims.
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens County), an advocate for the state's voter ID law said the discovery by the DMV further supports the need for the law.
"I could see where it would have very significant impact on our primary," Martin said. "But I think people will be watching it more closely."
Martin said there are groups that could abuse the relaxed regulations on identification at polling places and falsify registration cards to influence the electoral process.
"If they can produce a registration card you would not be able to ask for a photo ID," Martin said. "It's not that hard to fake a registration card, numbers and registration information is public information."
Currently, 31 states require that voters provide some form of identification when voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Sen. Larry Grooms, a co-sponsor of the law, said the reason the Justice Department rejected the voter ID law was because it contained more rigid requirements than similar laws passed in states like Georgia, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
"As it stands, our law is blatantly discriminatory and it's disparaging against poor and rural folk," Tempel said.
The letter from the Justice Department claimed the law would disproportionately impact minority voters. Of the 2,701,843 registered voters in the state 239,333 did not possess a DMV-issued photo ID as of Oct. 1, 2011. Ten percent of non-white registered voters lacked the proper identification required by the law whereas only 8.4 percent of white registered voters lacked proper identification, according to the letter.
Grooms told Patch the law would only discriminate against those who are attempting to vote under false pretenses.
On Tuesday Gov. Nikki Haley said the state took the necessary steps to ensure that anyone who wanted to vote would have access to meet the requirements set in place by the voter ID law.
"There is nothing we want more than to make sure every person in South Carolina has the right to vote," Haley said. "And we're not just talking about it, we did something about it. We had an 800 number, we opened the lines for two weeks, we said anybody that needs a ride to motor vehicles we will take you, we will help you get the ID that you need."
Haley said less than 30 people took advantage of the offer.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford said Haley's offer to give rides was "disingenuous" and suggested the effort did little to address the estimated 30,000 who lack the proper identification to satisfy the proposed requirements.
Susan Breslin, a Folly Beach activist opposed to the voter ID law, has testified on behalf of the Charleston County Democrats against the law.
"It struck me as nonsense," Breslin said. "The DMV is a gubernatorial agency and they've been frantically trying to provide data to support the law."
Breslin said this isn't the first time she's heard such claims.
"They claimed that hundreds of thousands of voters had moved out of state, but they've never backed up any of their allegations," Breslin said.
Communications Director for the State Attorney General Mark Plowden said the evidence that was uncovered by Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo, suggesting 900 cases of voter fraud, will play a role in the state's suit against the Department of Justice. Details of the evidence have not been released.