Today’s Voter ID ruling is a curious thing. On the surface it seems as if the federal court decision to uphold South Carolina’s Voter ID law is a win for the Republicans and a loss for ID-less voters, the African-American community, and the Democratic Party. But that’s not the case.
Although a three-panel federal court decided that the Voter ID law stands — but will not go into effect until 2013, well after Election Day in November — they noted that South Carolina voter rolls will not be purged as many state Republicans had hoped. In fact, the panel decided that ID-less voters will be able to vote without an ID from now until the end of time. In effect, the Voter ID law is meaningless.
The three judges write:
South Carolina’s new law, Act R54, likewise does not require a photo ID to vote. Rather, under the expansive “reasonable impediment” provision in Act R54 — as authoritatively interpreted by the responsible South Carolina officials, an interpretation on which we base our decision today — voters with the non-photo voter registration card that sufficed to vote under preexisting law may still vote without a photo ID. Those voters simply must sign an affidavit at the polling place and list the reason that they have not obtained a photo ID.
The panel adds that polls must accept all ballots from ID-less voters, regardless of the reason they have for not obtaining a photo ID:
Any reason asserted by the voter on the reasonable impediment affidavit for not having obtained a photo ID must be accepted — and his or her provisional ballot counted — unless the affidavit is “false.” Thus, the reasonableness of the listed impediment is to be determined by the individual voter, not by a poll manager or county board.
The court further explains:
As the South Carolina Attorney General determined, a voter may assert, for example, that
he or she lacks a birth certificate, or has a disability, or does not have a car. (The example of
voters who don’t have a car is especially important because one of the main concerns during the legislative debates was whether citizens without cars would be required to obtain photo IDs. They are not.) So too, a voter may assert any of the myriad other reasons for not procuring one of the required photo IDs, such as: I had to work, I was unemployed and looking for work, I didn’t have transportation to the county office, I didn’t have enough money to make the trip, I was taking care of my children, I was helping my family, I was busy with my charitable work, and so on. Any reason that the voter subjectively deems reasonable will suffice, so long as it is not false. If the affidavit is challenged before the county board, the county board may not second-guess the reasonableness of the asserted reason, only its truthfulness. As the Attorney General of South Carolina put it, “unless there is reason to believe the affidavit contains falsehoods, the vote will ultimately be deemed valid.”
But who determines if the reason is false. Well, in a nutshell, the voter. That said, if the voter admits that he or she is lying or that he or she simply doesn’t believe in the law, proclaiming “I don’t want to” or “I hate this law,” the boards don’t have to accept the ballot. Of course, few if any individuals will say that they are lying or note that they are refusing to get an ID out of protest, so in effect, no reason will likely ever be dismissed — and if it is, well, you can expect the court to change their decision on the S.C. Voter ID law right fast.
Just as importantly, the Voter ID law will not prevent voter fraud. It will not prevent anyone at anytime from casting a ballot using someone else’s voter registration card. Of course, voter fraud isn’t a problem in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there. The Republicans argued that it was and that’s why the Voter ID law was necessary. Of course, I seriously doubt they would have gone through the trouble of voting for this law if they knew that ultimately the court would rule that it was powerless to prevent voter fraud. Ha.
Oh, and one last thing. In the past the DMV handed out photo IDs for $5 a pop, but under the new law they must give them away for free, at a cost to you and me and everyone else who pays taxes. Way to go Republicans and thanks for wasting our time and money once again.
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