Editorial: SC officials need to own up to ‘zombie voter’ fabrication

LAST YEAR, GOV. Nikki Haley’s DMV director made headlines when he claimed to have discovered that nearly 1,000 dead people had cast ballots in our state.

Kevin Shwedo’s blockbuster claim came just a day after his boss announced plans to fight the U.S. Justice Department over its refusal to approve a state law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID before they cast their ballots, and it drew a chorus of “I told you so” from Republican officials. Attorney General Alan Wilson announced on national TV that “We know for a fact that there are deceased people whose identities are being used in elections in South Carolina.” Rep. Alan Clemmons, the chief supporter of the photo ID law, declared that “we must have certainty in South Carolina that zombies aren’t voting.”

But there was one little problem: Of the names that Elections Director Marci Andino was shown, not a single one was a dead voter. Some weren’t actually dead; others didn’t vote. It looked like Mr. Shwedo had once again jumped the gun, as he had done in an earlier dispute with Ms. Andino. Eighteen long months later, it turns out that he, and the alarmist politicians who swallowed his claims whole, did just that.

Earlier this month, SLED concluded that there was no evidence of any zombie voters.

This might seem like much ado about nothing. After all, the initial claim wasn’t used to get the bill passed, and it didn’t convince the federal judges who eventually heard Mr. Wilson’s lawsuit. Contrary to the popular shorthand, they didn’t approve the law that the Legislature passed; they approved a greatly modified version that Mr. Wilson testified he would enforce — a version that was much closer to what many critics had said they could accept than what the law’s supporters still claim it requires.

But the dead voters claim never was about reality. Like too many voter-fraud allegations the nation over, it was about fear-mongering. And in that regard, it did its job. It advanced, in the minds of too many voters, the false narrative that nefarious Democrats were stealing our elections. That’s a pretty incredible claim to make in a state as solidly Republican as ours, but still it increased those voters’ anger toward the nefarious types and their fealty to the politicians who trafficked in those claims.

Should we guard against dead voters and other voter fraud? Of course so. And when we have legitimate reason to suspect it’s occurring, we need to track it down, and make any necessary changes to our laws to prevent it. What we don’t need to do is pass laws based on threats that are wholly fabricated.

More to the point, we shouldn’t reward politicians for peddling fabrications. We should hold them accountable. At the least, we should be a lot more skeptical when they tell us things we want to believe.

When zombie-voter-fever was infecting the State House, we said that if the claims turned out to be false, the politicians who rushed to trumpet them should work every bit as hard to reassure the voters that they were wrong. Those claims have turned out to be false. It’s time for Mr. Wilson and Mr. Clemmons and all the other politicians who either peddled the claims or gave their silent acquiescence to them — and this includes the governor — to get to work reassuring voters that they have nothing to fear. Not because of the voter ID law that doesn’t really do what they claim it does, but because the zombie voters never invaded our state.