How strong is South Carolina’s voter ID law? Not very.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked to present a government-issued photo ID when they go to vote. But a voter who doesn’t have one still can cast a ballot, thanks to a federal court order.
In 2011, South Carolina’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law requiring voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. But after a legal challenge, a federal court opened a loophole in the law, saying voters without ID can vote, as long as they can cite an impediment that stopped them from getting one.
As a result, voters without an ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot Tuesday that will be counted when the final vote total is certified.
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“It counts as long as the voter is who they say they are, and the reason given can’t be proven false,” said Chris Whitmire of the S.C. Election Commission.
This will be the first presidential election with the S.C. voter ID requirement in place. A pre-election challenge to the law in 2012 pushed back its implementation.
In the 2014 election, only 99 provisional ballots statewide were rejected by county election boards. (Provisional ballots can be cast if there are other problems as well with a voter’s registration, including if their address has changed.)
As it stands, the voter ID law hasn’t halted many South Carolinians from voting.
Scott Buchanan, a political science professor at The Citadel, examined county-level data and found only a “couple hundred” ballots were cast by someone impeded from getting an ID – about 0.01 percent of all ballots cast.
“Contrary to what many people thought, turnout actually went up for white and black voters” in 2014 over the 2010 election, held before the voter ID law went into effect, Buchanan said.
If voters don’t have one of five specified forms of identification – a S.C. driver’s license, another Department of Motor Vehicles-issued ID, a photo voter registration card, military ID or passport – they still can vote after filling out an affidavit citing an impediment.
The state even provides options on pre-printed forms – a disability or illness, a work conflict, a lack of transportation, family responsibilities, a lack of a birth certificate or a religious objection to being photographed.
Would-be voters fill in their reason for not having an ID, and their ballots will be accepted by the county election board when it certifies election results Friday, unless someone else challenges the voter’s reason.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever challenged one,” Whitmire said. “It would be hard to prove because it’s up to the voter to decide what is a reasonable impediment.”
If you do have an ID, however, you must bring it with you to vote. Those who forget their IDs can cast a provisional ballot, too, but they have to come back with the ID for the Friday election board meeting or their ballots will be rejected.
South Carolina’s ID law originally was challenged in court because opponents said it disproportionately would disenfranchise minority voters. Today, one-time opponents have made peace with the law.
“It’s a very flexible law. Voters just have to understand how it works and be prepared,” said former Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, the voter protection co-chair for the S.C. Democratic Party and a general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s S.C. campaign, dealing with voter problems on Election Day.
Voter ID laws have been successfully challenged in other states. But Coble doesn’t foresee any legal effort to overturn South Carolina’s law.
“From everything I’ve heard, it’s settled law,” Coble said. “It was resolved with the compromise.”
SC VOTER IDs
S.C. law says that you need one of these IDs to vote:
▪ A S.C. driver’s license
▪ A photo ID issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles
▪ A photo voter registration card
▪ A military ID
▪ A U.S. passport
But you can vote even if you don’t have one
Would-be voters without a photo ID can vote if they can cite a “reasonable impediment” to getting one. Among the acceptable excuses:
▪ A disability or illness
▪ A work conflict
▪ A lack of transportation
▪ Family responsibilities
▪ A lack of a birth certificate
▪ A religious objection to being photographed