By Nicholas Davis
South Carolina became the most recent state to face the voter ID controversy that is sweeping states across the country. On Thursday, a court ruled that South Carolina’s new voter ID law could not be implemented until after the presidential election in November due to the lack of time between now and November 6th, the date of the election.
The law as it stands right now is a “soft” voter ID law, which only requires proof of address without a photo ID. However, the US State Department approved the new law on its merits, which requires eligible voters to present a government issued photo ID in order to cast a vote.
South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama are states that passed stricter voter ID laws. Yet, South Carolina is the only state to have received clearance from a federal panel of judges under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
This issue has become a hot topic in the months leading up to the election. Alleged accusations from opponents of voter ID laws claim these regulations are designed to disenfranchise impoverished, elderly, and minority groups, voters who traditionally lean blue. However, the state of South Carolina won a key victory in the voter ID battle when the panel declared there is nothing inherently wrong with requiring valid proof that someone is who they say they are, and a citizen of this country.
The Attorney General of South Carolina, Alan Wilson, praised the decision despite its delay stating, “It affirms our voter ID law is valid and constitutional under the Voting Rights Act. The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise. They ensure integrity at the ballot box.”
It will be interesting to see if this ruling will set a precedent for the state laws still awaiting clearance. Three of the four laws still awaiting a ruling happen to be in Republican dominated states. It may not matter. Many civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters (LWV) are choosing not to appeal the ruling; expressing satisfaction that the law will not be enacted before the upcoming elections.
This reasoning may signify an alternative objection to the law besides the typical discrimination argument. The reaction from these civil rights groups may indicate the problem with the laws is the timing, not the content of the law.
Both sides are right in this instance. The desire to verify identity before casting a vote is not inherently wrong, but the timing with which proponents chose to bring about these measures creates a cause for concern. If proponents were truly concerned with voter fraud, why weren’t these concerns dealt with earlier? Opponents also argue that the potential effect of voter fraud is negligible. There have been no documented cases of non-citizens en masse coming to America to affect the outcome of our elections. The fact remains that these laws promote voter integrity, which is something we should all encourage.
The federal panel of judges made the correct call by postponing the South Carolina law but also choosing to approve it on its merits. Government officials need to do their due diligence in assessing whether these laws disenfranchise voters. The process to receive a government photo ID should be easily understood by the common citizen. Moreover, it should be easy to obtain so as not cause undue economic burden on the voter. These criterion need to be considered when each and every law is proposed.
In this particular instance, I applaud everyone involved. The judges paid their due diligence when considering the effects of the law, the interest groups advocated for the voters so they were not disenfranchised by the lack of time before elections, and the state of South Carolina ensured the integrity and accuracy of their ballot booths.