South Carolina is in federal court arguing that its new law requiring people prove their identity at the polls won’t make voting so tough that it reduces turnout of African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. A federal panel is to determine whether South Carolina’s voter identification law violates the Voting Rights Act by putting heavy burdens on minorities who don’t have the identification. Last December, the Justice Department refused to allow South Carolina to require the photo IDs, saying doing so would reverse the voting gains of the states’ minorities. Closing arguments in the case — which went to trial in August and included several state officials as witnesses — were scheduled for Monday. South Carolina has said it would implement the law immediately if the three-judge panel upholds it, although a decision either way is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Tougher state voter registration and identification laws could factor into this year’s election as voters divide along racial lines behind President Barack Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the presidential contest. About 90 percent of African-Americans and some 64 percent of Hispanic registered voters support Obama, according to the most recent Gallup three-week tracking poll. (Aug 20-Sept. 9). Democrats worry the ID laws may rob Obama and Democratic candidates of votes.
The law allows voters to show a driver’s license or other photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, passport, military ID with photo or a voter registration card that includes a photo. The law’s route to passage — after other versions failed in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions — was marked by bitter partisan and intra-party fights. Attempts at compromise by including additional acceptable identification and early voting days imploded. The 2009 House bill triggered a walkout by all but one African-American in the South Carolina House and the 2010 bill died in a filibuster by Senate Democrats. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed the law in May 2011.