A coalition of six S.C. groups moved Friday to halt a new state law that requires voters to present a picture ID to cast a ballot at the polls. About 178,000 S.C. voters do not have photo IDs, such as a valid S.C. driver’s license, and would be affected by the change, according to 2010 State Election Commission data. Previously voters could present their voter registration cards, which do not include a photo, at the polls.
The coalition, including the ACLU and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, arguing the new law should be blocked because it is discriminatory. The groups said African-Americans are less likely than whites to have a driver’s license or other state-issued identification, as required by the law.
“We’re rolling back a basic right,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “Voting is not a privilege in a democracy.” Advocates of the new law, approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley this year, tout it as a way to curb voter fraud and safeguard state elections.
Because of the state’s history of discrimination against minorities, any changes to S.C. voting laws must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. The period when the public can comment on the new law ends Aug. 29. Sometime afterward, the Justice Department will decide whether the new law can go into effect.
Thirty states have passed laws that require voters to show an ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 14 states, the ID must include a photo of the voter.
Under the S.C. law, South Carolinians who already are registered to vote will be able to go to their local voter registration office, present a pay stub, utility bill or other non-photographic proof of identification and get a new voter registration card that includes a photo, free of charge, according to the Election Commission.