I doubt that S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has the authority to enforce his generous new interpretation of South Carolina’s new voter ID law – he can merely advise election officials, who may or may not follow his legal advice – but his out-of-courtroom explanation for testimony that enraged critics and seemed to startle a panel of federal judges represented the first hint of a rational approach to this issue that I’ve heard from an elected official. After testifying last month that people without cars, birth certificates or enough time to get a state-approved photo ID would “absolutely” be able vote by signing an affidavit saying they had a “reasonable impediment,” Mr. Wilson told The Associated Press that “We have balanced the interest of ensuring the integrity of the electoral system with the fundamental right of the individual to vote.” That seems so obvious. The question isn’t whether those two fundamental values have to be balanced in a voting system; the question is how to balance them. Or at least that ought to be the question. What’s so maddening about this whole issue is that neither side has been willing to recognize any shades of gray.
Republicans refuse to acknowledge that any legitimate voters will be disenfranchised if the state requires them to produce a picture ID. Rep. Alan Clemmons calls his new law “a voter-friendly bill that will empower every voter to not only cast a ballot but with greater confidence that their vote will count.” Which is absurd. The fact is that without the bypass provisions that Mr. Wilson seemed to be writing into the law as he was testifying, requiring a photo ID will prevent some legitimate voters from voting. Particularly older people who were not born in a hospital and for whom there never was created the birth certificate that is needed to obtain the ID cards that are accepted under the new law.
Democrats, on the other hand, refuse to acknowledge that there could be any motive for such a requirement besides trying to disenfranchise Democratic voters – particularly African-Americans, but anyone who’s old and poor and doesn’t have ready access to transportation, let alone the documentation that most of us take for granted.