A panel of federal judges ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina’s new voter ID does not have a discriminatory effect, but they also blocked it from going into effect in November. A Justice Department spokeswoman said DOJ was pleased that the court blocked the law from going into effect next month and noted that the law underwent “broad modifications” during the course of the trial to allow it to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called the ruling “a major victory for South Carolina and its elections process. It affirms our voter ID law is valid and constitutional under the Voting Rights Act. The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise; they ensure integrity at the ballot box,” he said in a statement. The Washington, D.C.-based panel concluded that the voter ID law was “not enacted for a discriminatory purpose” and precleared the law for any election in 2013. But it blocked the state from implementing the law this year “given the short time left before the 2012 elections, and given the numerous steps necessary to properly implement the law — particularly the new ‘reasonable impediment’ provision — and ensure that the law would not have discriminatory retrogressive effects on African-American voters.”
That provision of the law — allowing voters to still cast a ballot by telling poll workers about a “reasonable impediment” that prevented them from obtaining photo identification — played an important role in the decision. The court ruled that state and county officials “may not review the reasonableness of the voter’s explanation” for why they couldn’t obtain photo ID. The court said that the “key unanswered question” at the time the law was passed was how the state would enact the provision. The court said it was satisfied with the interpretations of South Carolina’s elections officials.
“At first blush, one might have thought South Carolina had enacted a very strict photo ID law,” the court ruled. “Much of the initial rhetoric surrounding the law suggested as much. But that rhetoric was based on a misunderstanding of how the law would work. Act R54, as it has been authoritatively construed by South Carolina officials, does not have the effects that some expected and some feared.”