Politics & Government

Who does SC’s voter ID law stop from voting? The answer might surprise you


In 2011, South Carolina passed a law to require voters to present some form of government-issued photo ID before they could cast a ballot in the Palmetto State’s elections.

But numbers from the S.C. Election Commission show that law hasn’t proven to be a hindrance to voters.

Out of 2.1 million votes cast in the 2016 general election, only 514 voters had to cast a provisional ballot because they lacked a photo ID — either because they didn’t have a state-approved photo ID or because they forgot to bring their ID to the polls.

That is only 0.02 percent of all 2016 voters.

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In the last election, 258 voters were able to cast a vote without an ID. That’s because a federal court in 2012 required the state to let anyone without an ID vote as long as they could cite a “reasonable impediment” to getting a driver’s license or other required ID.

As long as no one challenges the voter’s reason for not having a photo ID before their ballot is certified, their vote counts. In 2016, all the ballots cast by voters claiming a “reasonable impediment” were counted.

But voters who forget to bring their ID to their poll have a bigger problem. Those voters have to produce their photo ID — returning to their precinct with their missing ID or showing it to county election officials before votes are certified — or their vote, cast provisionally, won’t count.

Of the 257 voters who were missing their ID in 2016, only 31 ballots were counted. The other 226 would-be voters never returned with their ID.

Opponents of South Carolina’s voter ID law worried it would disproportionately affect African-American voters. And it has, although the numbers are small.

African-American voters made up 27.6 percent of registered S.C. voters in 2016, but 38.5 percent of the voters impacted by the ID requirement were African-American, according to the Election Commission. Thirty-five percent of voters citing an impediment to getting an ID were black, and 42 percent of the voters who forgot their ID were black.

Still, despite the fears of some opponents, the new ID law hasn’t seemed to have a major impact on voter turnout.

Before the law went into effect, 68.9 percent of S.C. voters turned out for the presidential election in 2012. Four years later, with the ID requirement in place, 67.8 percent of S.C. voters cast ballots.

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 an ID

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

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