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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
South Carolina's recent "Voter ID" law has been rejected by the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
In letter issued today, Asst. Sec. Thomas E. Perez explained that the state could not enforce the law because it would unfairly affect minorities, restricting their legal right to vote. (Full letter attached below.)
As a result, voters in the state will only need to present a voter registration card in order to vote. A drivers’ license or other state ID can still be used.
Signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley in early May, the bill required all voters to show a state-issued picture ID at the polls in order to participate in elections. However, and as the state legislature itself admitted at that time, 178,000 currently registered voters were without such photo identification. As DOJ researched the situation further, the number rose to 239,333.
Not only would the Voter ID law have alienated college students, seniors and disabled citizens, but it would disproportionately affect minorities, who “constituted 34.2% of registered voters who did not have the requisite DMV-issued identification to vote,” DOJ said in its letter to the state.
“(M)inority registered voters are about 20% more likely than white registered voters to lack DMV-issued identification,” Perez wrote.
Voters attempting to acquire photo IDs faced difficulties, too. Included in reported stories to date:
A senior citizen and registered voter was denied renewal of his driver’s license. Larry Butler was affronted with requests for additional documentation, including birth certificate and school records, all of which were refused when provided. Butler was born in a rural part of the state that didn’t provide birth certificates with a state seal. Butler also said Dept. of Motor Vehicles challenged his legal name.
Another South Carolina native who recently moved back to her home state was denied a driver’s license. Delores Freelon’s ID from her previous state of residence was rejected, even though other state offices including the Medicaid office had already accepted it. Her South Carolina birth certificate was refused, too, because her parents were immediately undecided on her first name. Only “baby girl” was listed on the official document, a common practice in state records at that time.
Another senior took up Gov. Haley’s televised offer for aid in getting a copy of his birth certificate. When he called the governor’s office, staff told Robert Tucker they didn’t know what he was talking about, and refused to help.
A resident who recently moved back to her birth-state of South Carolina was at first denied a driver’s license, and only given one after challenging DMV staff. She provided her birth certificate, military records, Social Security card and even her new motor vehicle registration, which showed her name and current address. She was continually told to bring more records, however. Only after arguing with DMV was she allowed to receive a new license.
DOJ had attempted to work with the state in its required review of the law, but didn’t get much cooperation, it says. South Carolina submitted its “Voter ID” law for review in late June, including data from the State Election Commission on the number of registered voters in danger of alienation. When DOJ requested additional information within a 60-day period, it only received response 55 days later, and from an entirely different state office (Dept. of Motor Vehicles) that challenged the validity of SEC’s data.
“We followed up with you immediately by telephone,” Perez wrote, “but the state offered no additional documentation.”
The potential rejection of the Voter ID law was already established. In August, DOJ stated the new law couldn’t be enforced in the November elections, and due to the state’s failure to issue new IDs in timely fashion. Earlier this month, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder spoke skeptically of the law.
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 Associated Press.
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.