The battle over voting rights in the November presidential election now swings to South Carolina, following the decision by the Pennsylvania courts on Tuesday to delay implementation of a voter ID requirement in that state. All eyes are now on the legal tussle between the department of justice and South Carolina, where probably the last voter ID law will be decided before election day on 6 November. Last year South Carolina became one of at least 34 states to introduce strict laws that require voters to present photo identification at polling stations – one of a swathe of measures attacking voting rights that swept across the US this election cycle. South Carolina’s law was blocked, however, by the Obama administration last June.
The department of justice wielded its powers under section 5 of the 1965 voting rights act – a safeguard introduced after desegregation in the deep south to prevent designated areas from changing voting procedures without federal government approval in advance. The blocking power was designed consciously to counter the old Jim Crow laws of the south, where African Americans were routinely denied the right to vote on spurious technical grounds.
The justice department’s final decision over the South Carolina’s voter ID law is now pending and could be announced as early as this week. It is also possible, though, that a final ruling will be postponed until after the presidential election. The assault on voting rights has been one of the epic themes of the 2012 election cycle, with states moving on an unprecedented scale to erect barriers to easy access to the polling booth. A tally by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York itemised at least 180 restrictive bills in 41 states
over the past two years, of which 15 laws were actually passed in 19 states.