State Files Suit Over Voter I.D. Law
Rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice, the state's suit argues its controversial law is not discriminatory.
Following through on his threat last month, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson on Tuesday filed suit against the U.S. Justice Department in a bid to overturn the department's December decision to prohibit several controversial provisions of the state's Voter I.D. law from taking effect.
"The DOJ has refused to allow South Carolina to enact its Voter I.D. law, claiming it does not adequately protect voters from discrimination, per the 1965 Voting Rights Act," Wilson said in a release. "However, very similar laws have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court (in the case of Indiana), and even pre-cleared by the DOJ itself (in the case of Georgia)."
The state's Voter I.D. law was passed in 2011, and requires voters to show photo identification. The identification can be obtained free of charge from the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
Presently, voters are required to show either their voter registration card, a valid state driver's license, or state-issued I.D. card. Opponents of the law argue that the elderly, and especially minorities, are less apt to have a required photo I.D., potentially disenfranchising otherwise legitimate voters.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal "pre-clearance" on voting changes to ensure that they don’t hurt minorities’ political power. That mandate is a vestige of the state's Jim Crow era, and earlier, when grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests were used to suppress minority voting.
"The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a letter to South Carolina officials following DOJ's ruling last December.
Last summer, at Gov. Nikki Haley's direction, the state offered free rides to local DMV's so that voters could obtain the proper identification required by the law. Few took up the offer, which Haley, Wilson and other proponents have used to bolster their assertions that the law would not be burdensome.
Opponents, however, widely ridiculed the invitation as a stunt. The ride offer was good for one day, and to get the appropriate I.D card, people would have needed numerous other forms of I.D. To obtain an identification card, citizens are required to produce a birth certificate, Social Security card, and proof of residency.
Further, if they have had a name change since birth, they must also produce legal documentation (marriage license, divorce decree or adoption records) to support the name change.
In its complaint, the state explains: "The covered voting changes in Act R54 [Voter I.D. law] do not and will not prohibit any voter in South Carolina from voting for or electing his or her preferred candidate of choice."
In fact, it continues, "South Carolina's photo identification law does not bar anyone from voting, but merely imposes on voters a responsibility to obtain an approved photo identification card and to bring it to the polls unless one of the exemptions in Section 5 of Act R54 applies."
Said Attorney General Wilson: "The DOJ has denied citizens in South Carolina protection of a law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in Indiana, and the DOJ itself pre-cleared for Georgia."
Citing the provisions in Section 5 of the Voter I.D. law that provide voters with an ability to vote after swearing an affidavit, Wilson added: "Nothing in this law prevents anyone from voting if they cannot immediately show a valid photo identification."
Wilson's suit, against the DOJ and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It is unclear when the court may take up the matter.
Click here to read the state's complaint.