October 11, 2012 Print

Federal Judges Delay Implementing South Carolina Voter ID Law Until 2013

by Bethany Monk

A federal appeals court panel decided Wednesday to uphold but delay enforcement of a South Carolina law requiring people to produce a government-issued photo ID before casting a vote. 

The three-judge panel agreed unanimously that given the short amount of time before Election Day, the voter ID law may have “discriminatory effects” if implemented this year. The law will take effect in 2013.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told CitizenLink that people have plenty of time to get a photo ID.

“It prevents people from impersonation fraud, from voting under false or fraudulent registrations,” he said. “It prevents illegal aliens from voting if they have to produce a government issued photo ID. It can potentially prevent double voting by people registered in more than one state.”

The decision in the South Carolina case comes just a week after a Pennsylvania state judge halted that state’s voter ID law.

The Pennsylvania case is a bit different than the South Carolina’s, von Spakovsky said.

“The case in Pennsylvania, which was filed by a number of private organizations like the NAACP and League of Women Voters, claimed the voter ID law was a violation of the state’s constitution,” von Spakovsky said. “This case in South Carolina was a dispute between the state of South Carolina and the U.S. Justice Department because the Justice Department was claiming the law was discriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

Under Section 5, certain states, including South Carolina, cannot make a change under their voting rules unless they obtain a clearance from the United States Justice Department, or get it approved by a federal court, von Spakovsky said.

South Carolina submitted the law administratively to the Justice Department, which objected to the law claiming it was discriminatory, he added.

The Obama administration and other opponents of such voter ID laws claim these laws disenfranchise people, including minority voters, many of whom, they say, may not have a government-issued ID.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a federal lawsuit contesting the objection and asked the court to overrule the Justice Department’s decision, von Spakovsky said.

Wednesday’s ruling is a major victory for South Carolina and its election process, Wilson said in a statement.

“The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise; they ensure integrity at the ballot box,” Wilson said. “This ruling also affirms South Carolina’s voter ID law should have been pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department.”

Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin all passed new voter ID laws in their 2011 or 2012 legislative sessions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.

Learn more about the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Read “Summary of Voter ID Laws Passed.”