A U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. on Wednesday upheld a South Carolina law that requires all voters to show a photo identification when they cast their ballots.
The law will not take effect until the 2013 election cycle, meaning even those without a state-issued photo ID can still vote in next month’s race.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the law last year. However, the U.S. Justice Department blocked it from taking effect, arguing that it would disproportionately affect minority voters. Wednesday’s decision removes the hurdle.
The panel based its decision on a section of the law that would allow a person with a valid non-photo voter registration card to still cast a ballot. “That extremely broad interpretation of the reasonable impediment provision will make it far easier than some might have expected or feared for South Carolina voters with a non-photo voter registration card (and without photo ID) to vote as they could under pre-existing law,” Circuit Judge Brett Cavanaugh wrote.
“Today’s ruling by the three judge panel is a major victory for South Carolina and its election process,” State Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “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.”
Democrats, who opposed South Carolina’s law, said they hoped it would be appealed. “It’s time for this state to find solutions to real problems,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said in a statement, “Republicans… have spent millions in taxpayer funds on this cure in search of a disease.”
Democrats frequently point out that no one has ever been prosecuted for voter impersonation in South Carolina. Republicans insist that there is no way to prosecute fraud without such a law.
The Justice Department indicated it would not appeal the law, but left open the possibility for others to do so. In a statement, the agency said South Carolina made “broad modifications” to the law during the trial and that it was okay with the new interpretation. “The court’s preclearance of the law for future elections is expressly conditioned on South Carolina’s binding promise that all qualified voters without photo ID will still be allowed to vote without additional burden,” the statement said.
South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney, a Republican, said he was pleased with the with the panel’s decision. “I do know that the folks who pushed it worked very, very hard to meet all the constitutional requirements. We looked at the Supreme Court cases, looked at the laws in the other states that have been upheld,” he told Rock Hill station WRHI.