South Carolina senators approved a controversial bill late Wednesday that would require voters to show certain photo identification cards in order to cast their ballot. After a relatively brief debate Wednesday, the Senate passed a conference report approved by the House last month.
The vote was 26-16 and fell along party lines. It marked the end of three years of work by Republicans to pass the bill. Two previous attempts could not get out of the Senate.
Republican leaders brought the legislation to the floor immediately after the Senate gave second reading to the state budget. The conference report did not include an early voting provision senators had included in their version of the bill.
The law would require a person to show a drivers license, passport or military ID in order to vote. Anyone who does not have a license could get a free ID card from the state. Supporters say it would put integrity into the voting process by preventing fraud.
Senate President pro tempore Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) told the body he was not happy with the legislation, but said it was the best they could get. He blamed some House Republicans for mobilizing support to pass a “clean” bill, without regard to the “complexities” of voting laws.
Democrats attacked the bill’s estimated $1.34 million cost. They also said it would disenfranchise low-income workers, minorities and the elderly who are less likely to have a photo identification card. Sen. John Scott (D-Richland) said there have been no recorded instances of voter fraud in South Carolina.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk. Gov. Nikki Haley says she plans to sign it into law. However, because South Carolina is covered by the Voting Rights Act, any changes in election law must first be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. Several members predicted the Justice Department would not approve the law. Supporters say the federal government approved similar laws in Indiana and Georgia.
McConnell would not say if he thought the legislation could pass the Justice Department’s scrutiny.
Sen. John Land (D-Clarendon) issued a statement soon after the passage, saying, “Democrats ask and encourage the United State’s Department of Justice to deny the necessary clearance of this new law.”