The Justice Department on Friday entered the divisive national debate over new state voting laws, rejecting South Carolina’s measure requiring photo-identification at the polls as discriminatory against minority voters.
The decision by Justice’s Civil Rights Division could heighten political tensions over the new laws, which critics say could depress turnout among minorities and others who helped elect President Obama in 2008. A dozen states this year passed laws requiring voters to present state-issued photo identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Although Democratic governors vetoed four of the measures, liberal and civil rights groups have raised alarms about the remaining laws. Opponents of the laws say they would discriminate against minorities and others, such as low-income voters, because some don’t have the necessary photo identification and lack the means to easily obtain ID cards. Conservatives and other supporters of the tighter laws say they are needed to combat voter fraud.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, several of the states that enacted voter-identification laws are required to receive federal “pre-clearance” to ensure that the changes don’t affect minority political power.
In its first decision on one of those new measures, the Justice Department said Friday that South Carolina’s law will discriminate against minority voters, though the department declined to take a position on whether the alleged discrimination was intentional. The law, passed in May and signed by Gov. Nikki Haley (R), requires voters to show a driver’s license or one of several other forms of photo identification.
The rejection leaves the state with the option of trying to get the law approved by a federal court or passing another law and submitting it to the Justice Department.