On Jan. 27, the South Carolina House of Representatives advanced a bill requiring that all prospective voters in this state present a government-issued photo identification card to poll workers in order to vote.
When this bill becomes law, there is no question that it will reduce the amount of voters in the Palmetto State who are eligible to participate in local, state, and federal elections. A disproportionate number of those who will be rendered ineligible are those who have traditionally voted Democratic. And it is for that reason that in the 12 states that have passed major legislation of this type since 2001, the sponsors have been Republican lawmakers.
In 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld laws of this type, virtually assuring that more voter identification laws would be proposed and passed, particularly in those states where a Republican governor and legislative majority are present.
The passage of such laws raises this question: Are Republicans across the country really that interested in preventing voter fraud or is this an act of self-preservation at play?
Another question to consider is this: Although laws restricting voter access may be legal, what can be done to better balance a partisan playing field that favors some over others?
In 2005, when Indiana enacted its voter identification law, requiring voters to present a federal- or state-issued photo ID in order to cast their ballots, the courts considered how such a measure impacted the individual’s right to vote. The central question was whether the burden placed on voters, by requiring them to obtain an official photo identification card, outweighed the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud, modernizing elections, and safeguarding voter confidence.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided the question in the case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. Writing for the majority, which upheld the Indiana law, Justice John Paul Stevens reasoned that getting a photo identification card does not represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting. As a result, the states of Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and South Dakota have all enacted laws requesting or requiring voters to have a photo ID in order to vote. South Carolina’s General Assembly is not treading any new ground.
Voter ID laws and bills must also be analyzed within the context of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting qualifications that deny citizens the right to vote on the basis of their race or color, it still acknowledges that voting is a state-granted privilege. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed states to deny suffrage to ex-felons, for example. With voter identification laws, the additional steps required for a citizen to vote are not tied to race or color, although a large number of minorities may be affected by Voter ID laws. Republicans have wisely chosen a race-neutral strategy that has the effect of reducing the number of eligible voters for Democratic candidates.
The S.C. Election Commission reports that there are 2,495,806 registered voters in the Palmetto State. This group makes up 58 percent of the population who are eligible to vote. Of those registered voters, only 45 percent voted in the 2006 elections. According to the state Election Commission, only 178,000 registered voters are estimated to be affected by the new voter identification law, which means that only 7 percent of the people who actually intend to vote need to get a new ID card if the Voter ID bill becomes law.
Considering these numbers, state Democrats would be better served by appealing to existing South Carolina voters instead of worrying about those who would not be able to vote as a result of a Voter ID law.