By Robert Kittle
The June primaries were the first statewide test of South Carolina’s new Voter ID law and it kept 44 people who didn’t have photo IDs from having their ballots counted.
Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the State Election Commission says, “These are voters who forgot their ID, left it at home and were allowed to vote a provisional ballot and then given the option of coming back later, showing their photo ID later to make sure their vote counted. So for those people their vote didn’t count and that’s not good, and people need to know that if you forget your photo ID and you vote one of these provisional ballots, you’ve got to come and show your photo ID later.”
He says the new state law requires you to show your photo ID to vote if you have one, but you can still vote if you don’t. You can vote without a photo ID either by voting absentee by mail, or by voting in person and signing an affidavit stating that you don’t have a photo ID and there’s a reasonable impediment to getting one. Statewide, 18 people in the 29 counties that have responded so far voted after signing reasonable impediment affidavits.
Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, says the fact that the state’s photo ID law doesn’t really require a photo ID may have kept some people from voting.
“We do know that people were confused, obviously, by the mixed messages of having to have a photo ID,” he says. “And if you saw that on a sign at your poll, you read it in the paper, you got something from the Election Commission that says you have to have a photo ID to vote and you didn’t have one, you might not go vote. And we don’t know those numbers.”
Whitmire says, “We really didn’t get the calls or complaints about photo ID.”
The SC Progressive Network was one of the parties that challenged the state’s voter ID law in court. A federal appeals court ended up rewriting the law, allowing exceptions for people who don’t have photo IDs and have good reasons for not being able to get one. For example, some older voters were born at home and don’t have birth certificates.
Bursey says the whole purpose of the law was to suppress the minority vote. “South Carolina, our tax money, spent millions of dollars appealing this,” he says. “We hired the most high-priced lawyer in the United States of America to argue our case in the appeals court, and the court said, ‘Your law’s no good. We’re going to rewrite it.’”
While other states’ laws are being challenged in court, Bursey says the fact that South Carolina’s has already been approved by a federal appeals court makes a court challenge of South Carolina’s unlikely.