At a Jan. 28 press conference in Columbia, Rep. Jim Clyburn described dramatic improvements needed in the election process, and told how a new bill, the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013, would provide those enhancements if passed.
A co-sponsor of the bill, Clyburn said its goals are to improve voter accessibility and the integrity and accountability of the election system.
Included in its provisions are requirements that electronic voting machines produce paper receipts, allowance of voter registration on election days, improved poll access for disabled voters, and creation of a national voter hotline.
The Act also calls for criminalization of voter intimidation practices and illegalization of deceptive tactics that intentionally mislead voters about their rights.
This national address to voting rights stems from consistent changes to states’ election laws in the last four years that appear polarized, Clyburn said.
“They’re aimed very directly at voting patterns favored by minority voters,” Clyburn told The State
For example, a purging of voter registration records following the 2008 election cycles resulted in a five-percent drop of Hispanic voters nationwide, and seven percent of African-American voters were removed from the rosters.
Restrictions on voters’ rights took a dramatic surge in the last two years in particular.
Since 2011, 41 states including South Carolina introduced 180 bills
that would restrict voting rights, such as by voter ID requirements, limited registration, and reduction in early voting periods. In less than two years, 25 of the 180 proposals as well as two executive orders were passed in 19 states.
These 19 states account for 231 electoral votes in presidential elections – 86 percent of the number needed to win.
Other vote-compromising efforts were done directly by state election and voter registration offices, as well.
The eight declared “battleground states” of the 2012 presidential race, for example – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – had collectively dropped over half a million registered voters from their records
In response to these potentially-polarized actions, Clyburn’s Voter Empowerment Act also requires that election officials be demonstrably non-partisan, as well, and not be allowed to play any role in political campaigns.
In 2011, South Carolina state legislature passed law requiring citizens to present state-issued photo identification in order to vote, affecting over a quarter-million registered voters in the state.
Following a challenge from the U.S. Dept. of Justice in federal court, the Voter ID law remains valid, but now accepts other identification, and also allows provisional ballots to voters with “reasonable impediment” to producing such ID at the polls.
Other bills calling for restrictions in early voting and accommodations to disabled voters were introduced to South Carolina’s legislature this month, as well.
A similar national Voter Empowerment Act was introduced last year
. Referred to a House committee in May 2012
, it was never brought to vote.
Today a federal court upheld South Carolina
’s contested “Voter ID
” law, but said it can’t be enforced in this year’s elections.
“(G)iven the short time left before the 2012 election, and given the numerous steps necessary to properly implement the law…we do not grant pre-clearance for the 2012 elections,” Judge Brett Cavanaugh wrote
in the ruling.
In November, voters can still use their voter registration cards and other non-state IDs in order to participate in the general election.
This allows the 239,000 affected voters in the state to cast ballots this year, but not in future elections unless they acquire an approved photo identification.
State legislature passed the law in May 2011
, but the U.S. Dept. of Justice ruled against it later that year
, stating the “Voter ID” requirement was restrictive and also discriminatory in application.
Using claims of votes cast in the names of deceased citizens
, state Attorney Gen. Alan Wilson pursued the case, which wound up in D.C.’s U.S. District Court.
Response to the court’s ruling has been mixed. Republican officials who helped enter and pass the law in state legislature offer an expected praise for the decision, which Wilson calls
“a major victory.”
The version approved by the three-judge panel is not the same as the original state law, however, as attorney J. Gerald Hebert, who represented those opposed to Voter ID, points out.
“Ultimately the law that the court has approved for 2013 and beyond is a huge departure from the bill enacted by the South Carolina Legislature,” Hebert said
The original bill
required voters to provide government-issued photo ID in order to cast ballots.
In the variation offered during the case by Wilson, voters without identification will still be allowed to vote after simply signing a form explaining why they do not have any of the five approved IDs at the time.
Without this accommodation, the court would not have ruled in favor of Voter ID, Judge Cavanaugh stated.
Many others aren’t satisfied with the variation, however, calling today’s court decision only a temporary victory that will expire next year.
“We’re glad that thousands of voters who faced being denied access to the polls will get to vote next month, but are concerned about what lies ahead,” said Nancy Abudu
, an attorney with the ACLU.
Over 239,000 South Carolinians are registered to vote, but lack any of the required formats of photo ID.Bobbie Rose
, Democratic candidate for the 1st Congressional Dist., is also dissatisfied with the decision.
“While I’m glad the ruling won’t affect voters this year, it’s still deeply disturbing how much of an obstacle this creates for South Carolina voters in the future, especially seniors,” Rose says.
“Once you’re 65, you don’t need to renew a license after it expires unless you’re still driving. Banks and even courts still have to accept those IDs, too. Those seniors must now have their IDs renewed, though, and will even face costs of acquiring the documentation needed to prove their identity. That’s the equivalent of a poll tax.”
Rose says the law will disproportionately affect minorities, and will also affect young voters, too. “Less than two-thirds of 18-year-olds have a license
,” Rose says, “and their student IDs won’t be acceptable when they want to vote or register to vote.”
The state Democratic Party “strongly disagrees with the court’s opinion,” as well, even alluding that today’s decision might not be final.
SCDP “is hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will resolve the differences between various Voter ID cases around the country,” party chair Dick Harpootlian said this afternoon.
Next week, state attorney general Alan Wilson will attempt to contest the U.S. Dept. of Justice’s rejection of South Carolina’s “voter ID” law.
The case is taking a new twist, however, thanks to the AG of another state.
Today, Arizona’s Thomas Horne filed an amicus brief
with the Supreme Court, claiming that one particular part of the Voting Rights Act unfairly affects the nine states that are subject to its laws.
Section Five of the Act notes that any change to voting laws in subject states must be approved by the federal government.
Some other states not subject to VRA, though, have already changed their own laws pertaining to voting and didn’t require federal approval for those changes, Horne notes.
Different formats of voter identification requirements are used in some of those other states, Horne notes, and the federal government didn’t interfere in those cases. Minority voters are still subject to discrimination in those states, too, he says.
Because South Carolina and nine other states are the only ones subject to the Voting Rights Act, Horne concludes, it has unfairly lost its own right to discriminate. Section Five of the VRA “undermines the principal of equal sovereignty,” he says
“Because the VRA’s purpose is to eradicate voting discrimination for all United States citizens, treating States differently is not congruent with the Act’s purpose.”
In other words, Horne says that if they can do it, so can we.
What Horne overlooks, however – and right along with South Carolina’s Alan Wilson and all of the state legislature that first voted for this bill back in May 2011
– is that the state already had requirements for voters to present identification before being allowed to partake in an election. Citizens had to provide a voter registration card, a driver’s license, student ID or other means to clarify their identity before being allowed to vote.
The new law, which the Dept. of Justice overruled last December
, attempted to restrict the format of acceptable ID to that of a picture-bearing card issued by the state. Had it been accepted, over 239,000 South Carolinians – who were already registered, mind you – would have lost their right to vote.
The other states that incorporated new voter identification requirements still accepted practically all other formats of ID, including the ones South Carolina was set to refuse – student IDs, non-picture IDs and even expired drivers’ licenses (which senior citizens do not have to legally renew, provided they no longer operate a motor vehicle). And in those other states, anyone lacking such identification could still vote; poll workers could simply verify the voter’s signature with the original registration on file.
In the Palmetto State, however, the law demanded that no vote could be cast without an unexpired, state photo ID. Not only did this disproportionately affect minority voters and senior citizens, but the state Dept. of Motor Vehicles made it worse
by even blocking renewal of licenses for some, even denying them to many new residents
Wilson and the DMV partnered up shortly after to continue their goal, claiming that 900 dead citizens were listed to have voted in the last election
. The humility they suffered when the state election commission proved them wrong in each and every case, though, apparently didn’t set in.
Now armed with support from Arizona’s attorney general, Wilson’s case will be heard by a federal appeals court from Aug. 27 to 31
Let’s hope that Horne’s argument – which blatantly calls for equal rights to discriminate – gets Wilson’s appeal shot down again.
A recently-passed state law requiring voters to present photo IDs could be delayed.
Passed in May, the new law directly affects 178,000 registered voters in South Carolina who are without, or with expired, state-issued photo identification cards.
The problem with the new law is the length of time it could take that high number of residents to receive new IDs. As a result, it can’t be enforced in elections this year, the U.S. Dept. of Justice said on Tuesday.
Robert Cook, deputy attorney general with DOJ, declared “such short time period is beyond the voter’s control.”
South Carolina's new law is yet to be formally approved by DOJ, which is required under the Voting Rights Act. A final ruling on its future use should be issued by the end of the month.
The state Election Commission agrees with Cook. Marci Andino, SEC exec. director, says there isn’t enough time to inform those particular voters before for the next elections in the state.
Municipal elections in the state are scheduled for as early as later this month; 10 different races in Charleston County alone take place
on Nov. 8.
Making the transition even more difficult, Andino says, is the state’s lack of equipment to produce voter identification cards with photos, a planned project still underway
in compliance with the new law.
“We’re waiting to find out if we get preclearance before we spend any money,” she told
South Carolinians seeking to comply with the new law are facing many difficulties, as well. Recent applications for state IDs by affected persons have been rejected
or delayed for reasons ranging from non-certified birth certificates to change of name by marriage.
The 178,000 registered voters without current IDs are supposed to receive new ones at no cost, according to the new Voter ID law. The costs of acquiring the documents requested by the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in order to get such ID have neared $1,000
in some cases.
A final DOJ ruling on use of the Voter ID law should be issued by the end of the month.
No online or same-day voter registration. Silly voter ID requirements
about to be enacted, and no convenience voting formats. No preparation for new young voters, either. And where does that leave us? Tied with Virginia for dead last when it comes to meeting the needs of the electing public.
To read the full report by Rock The Vote, click here
(To see a somewhat larger version of the chart, click here