Saturday, September 3, 2011

Obama DOJ Questions South Carolina's New Voter Photo ID Law

In an Aug. 29, 2011 letter, T. Christian Herren, Jr., Chief of the Obama DOJ's Civil Rights Division, not only demanded that South Carolina, within 60 days, provide additional information about its recently enacted polling place photo ID restriction law, but stated that if SC failed to provide a timely "response...the [U.S.] Attorney General may object to the proposed changes consistent with the burden of proof placed upon the submitting authority."

Herren noted that SC has the "burden of demonstrating" that the new polling place photo ID law was neither enacted "for a discriminatory purpose nor will have a retrogressive effect."

SC's Republican Attorney General, Alan Wilson, in an apparent recognition that pre-clearance is likely to be denied, told those in attendance at a GOP fundraiser that he had "no faith" that the DOJ "will do the right thing." He vowed to litigate the matter "up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary."

The ACLU submitted a 15-page letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on August 5, 2011 asking that the DOJ to deny South Carolina’s request for pre-clearance of its new polling place photo ID law under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU letter argues that proponents’ unsubstantiated claims of "voter fraud" were but a pretext for unlawful discrimination and that statistics suggest that the new law would operate as an illegal poll tax, especially for the disproportionate number of African Americans who live below the federal poverty level in the state.

South Carolina's history of voting rights violations require federal oversight of election law changes, including requiring voters to show photo ID.

Much like Texas' new voter photo ID law the SC new law requires voters to show a South Carolina driver's license or state-issued ID card; a new state voter registration card with a photo; a federal military ID or a passport. Texas added a concealed handgun license to the short list of required photo ID's. SC voters who do not have any of those photo IDs when they go to their polling place will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but will have to produce the ID within three days for those votes to count. Texas allows such provisional voters six days to to produce a required photo ID at their county's registrar's office for their vote to count.

Thirty states require an ID to vote and half of those require photo identification, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is has asked the Justice Department to reject the law on South Carolina's books since May.

Democrats and other groups have challenged the photo ID requirement, saying the new law will disenfranchise voters. State estimates show that 178,000 voters don't have driver's licenses and are currently registered to vote.

Advocates say those affected are mostly elderly, black and have trouble getting state-issued identification and documentation.

On Friday, Senate Democratic Caucus members filed a protest to the new law with the Justice Department. Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said the state failed to put in failsafe protections that would make sure people have a chance to vote, including added early voting time and a change in how provisional ballots are handled when voters don't have the required identification.

And, Malloy said, South Carolina's law is tougher because it requires current and valid photo identification — meaning people with a suspended driver's license may not have their votes counted.

The law "is a suppression of votes and obviously it targets those minorities and those over 65 in a way that's almost equivalent to a poll tax," Malloy said.

Republicans who pushed the change, Rep. Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison of Columbia, say it will prevent voter fraud in South Carolina.

Whitmire said the state has been responding to Justice Department questions on the proposal, including about how voters can continue to vote using absentee ballots by mail.

And they've wanted details on a new voter registration system that will allow county election and registration offices to imprint photographs on registration cards for people who don't have the required state or federal identification. The system that uses those cameras won't begin until October.

Some opponents of the law aren't optimistic that the challenge will be successful with the Justice Department, including Brett Bursey, the executive director of the South Carolina Progressive Network who has lobbied against photo ID efforts for years.

"I think it's going to squeak by and I think it's going to squeak by because they added county cameras," Bursey said. "If the law goes into effect it's going to cause longer lines and headaches for the poll workers."

Bursey said Justice Department approval would likely bring court challenges to stop the law.

MSNBC's Ed Show: Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, and John Nichols, Washington Correspondent of the Nation magazine, discuss ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the secretive organization behind pro-corporate legislation.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show discusses the DOJ's questioning of
SC's new voter photo ID law

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