South Carolina apparently will recoup “tens of thousands of dollars” spent to sue the federal government over the state’s voter ID law. But before we break out the champagne and noisemakers, we need to note that the total bill came to $3.5 million, and for what? During the 2011 legislative session, the state passed a law that ostensibly required anyone hoping to vote to produce an official photo ID of some kind. In December 2011, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office blocked the law from going into effect, saying it would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of South Carolina voters – mostly minorities and elderly residents who don’t have photo IDs. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson then sued the government at a cost of $3.5 million, most of which was used to pay for outside lawyers to argue the case. That was roughly three times Wilson’s original estimate of what the case would cost.
In October, a three-judge panel upheld the law, but only if the state allowed voters to opt out of the photo ID requirement by signing an affidavit that they have a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID. The judges’ ruling stated that “voters with the non-photo voter registration card that sufficed to vote under pre-existing law may still vote without a photo ID.”
In other words, despite the crowing by Gov. Nikki Haley and the high-fiving of the new law’s supporters, it changed almost nothing. The voter ID law doesn’t require voters to produce a photo ID.
Wilson asked the court in October to order the federal government to pay $90,379.59 of the state’s expenses. But that figure probably will be reduced because the court specifically excluded some expenses, notably the cost of hiring attorneys.
That means the state is out at least $3.4 million because of this lawsuit – a lawsuit that essentially changed nothing.