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Department of Justice objects to South Carolina's voter law

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:15 PM EST, Fri December 23, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The law, passed this year, is "legally unenforceable," the Justice Department says
  • Assistant U.S. attorney general argues its voter ID requirement could be discriminatory
  • South Carolina's governor calls the decision "outrageous"

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Justice on Friday deemed South Carolina's new law requiring voters to present a state or federal photo ID "legally unenforceable," arguing that it could be discriminatory against minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The proposed law, signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in May, would require voters wishing to vote in person to present one of five forms of photo identification. The current law, in effect since 1988, does not require a photo ID. The stated intention in changing the law was to reduce voter fraud caused by someone impersonating another voter.

"Although the state has a legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud and safeguarding voter confidence ... the state's submission did not include any evidence or instance of either in-person voter impersonation or any other type of fraud that is not already addressed by the state's existing voter identification requirement," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote in a letter to the office of the South Carolina attorney general, explaining the decision.

Perez cited a number of statistics in showing that the law does not meet the burden required by a portion of the Voting Rights Act saying that states must demonstrate their laws will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters. Among them: "minority registered voters were nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus be effectively disenfranchised by" the law's requirements, Perez wrote, citing data provided by the state.

South Carolina can appeal the decision to the U.S. District Court in Washington, but until then, "the submitted change continues to be legally unenforceable," Perez wrote.

The state was one of 14 recently named in a report by the NAACP that passed laws that restrict the voting or voter registration process in ways that it says disproportionately impact minorities. The report said such restrictive laws "assault" Americans' voting rights.

The report, released December 5, calls the laws "coordinated efforts to suppress the growing voting strength of communities of color, the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and the young."

Haley, in a statement provided to The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, slammed Friday's decision by the Department of Justice, calling it "outrageous."

"We plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights," The State quoted Haley as saying.

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