By | Josh Gerstein
The Justice Department has blocked South Carolina’s new voter ID law from taking effect, claiming that the measure will put an unfair burden on minority voters.
“However analyzed, the state’s data demonstrate that non-white voters are both signficantly burdened by [the photo ID requirement] in absolute terms, and also disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification among the forms of identification that would be necessary for in-person voting under the proposed law,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote in a letter delivered to the office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson just as official Washington shut down for the Christmas holiday.
As a jurisdiction with a history of discrimination in voting, South Carolina is required to submit changes in voting procedures to the Justice Department or a court for clearance under the Voting Rights Act before such changes can take effect.
Perez said data submitted by S. Carolina showed that minority voters were about 20 percent more likely to lack the kinds of photo ID that are acceptable to present at polling places.
“Until South Carolina succeeds in substantially addressing the racial disparities [in voter ID possession] the state cannot meer its burden of proving that, when compared to the benchmark standard, the voter identifications requirements proposed…will not have a retrogressive effect,” Perez wrote in the letter (posted here). He said if S. Carolina addresses the discrepancy, it could reapply for clearance of the law.
Perez also said there was no evidence submitted of the kind of fraud the state hoped to combat. “Although the state has a legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud and safeguarding voter confidence…the state’s submission did not include any evidence or instance of either inperson voter impersonation or any other type of fraud that is not already addressed by the state’s existing voter identification requirement and that arguablycould be deterred by requiring voters to present only photo identification at the polls,” he wrote.
Wilson’s office had no immediate comment on the Justice Department action, which can be challenged in court.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said: “I am working every day to move South Carolina forward, and whether it be illegal immigration reform, creating jobs despite the NLRB, or now Voter ID, the President and his bullish administration are fighting us every step of the way. It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th amendment rights.”