South Carolina responds in court on voter ID law

Story highlights

  • Requiring voters to show a photo ID is not discriminatory, the state argues
  • The law is "not materially distinguishable" from Indiana's approved law, it says
  • Democrats contend requiring a photo ID may reduce voter participation by the poor
The state of South Carolina told a federal court in the nation's capital Tuesday it has a right to require voters to present a photo ID at the polls, despite opposition from the Obama administration's civil rights lawyers.
The legal brief, signed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, declares that changes in voting procedures put in place when the state passed the law in 2011 are not discriminatory.
"The changes have neither the purpose nor will they have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority," the document declares.
South Carolina goes on argue that its law "is not materially distinguishable from the Indiana voter identification law," which was upheld as constitutional.
The state points out in its pleading that no fewer than 31 states require voters to present some type of identification documents at the polls, and 15 states have enacted laws that require voters to present a photo ID. Currently, South Carolina requires a voter registration card, which has no photograph.
The complaint filed Tuesday in federal court is in response to a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder's top civil rights lawyer on December 23 saying the Justice Department views the law as discriminatory and therefore cannot give "pre-clearance," which is required for states in the Deep South under the Voting Right Act.
The Justice Department says any law whose enforcement will have any adverse impact on non-white voters constitutes a denial of the right to vote.
Under the rules, the case is expected to be heard next month by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
The issue is highly partisan, with Democrats contending that requiring a photo ID may intimidate voters, may reduce voter participation by the poor, and may be burdensome to the poor and elderly. Republicans insist the law is designed to prevent fraud and combat multiple balloting.
The U.S. government is expected to respond in court later this month. A decision is expected in the spring.