AS FEDERAL COURTS stepped up their pace of striking down state voter identification laws, I got a note the other day from a reader asking whether there was “any movement here in South Carolina to accomplish the same so that come November 8, 2016, I won’t have to (as a protest) provide my passport, birth certificate, drivers license, voter registration card and all of my college photo identification cards from the 1970s.”
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His interest wasn’t merely philosophical. He also hoped something could be done “so that my sister’s 88 year old father in law whose license expired years ago and never had a passport won’t have his constitutional right to vote illegally suppressed … along with so many others like him.”
I suspect it’s a question on the minds of a lot of South Carolinians — both those who see photo ID requirements as vote suppression and those who worry that the courts might undo a fraud-prevention measure they consider essential to protecting the sanctity of their vote.
In fact, there’s little chance that anything will change in South Carolina — because our law already has been reviewed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. And upheld. Sort of.
If you already know this story, just skip down to my quiz at the end of the column.
You’d think everyone would know it by now. We’ve gone two and a half election cycles with the court-rewritten law — and none with the law as written by the Legislature. Yet it remains a huge point of confusion.
Perhaps that’s because the politicians who fought so hard to pass the law continue to talk about it as though it does what they said it would.
Perhaps it’s because we focus on national news instead of state news, and there’s so much talk on the 24/7 “news” channels and social media about voter ID laws, so people assume that what South Carolina calls a photo ID law actually requires people to present a photo ID in order to vote, and turns away people who don’t have one, like the laws being struck down in other states.
And on paper, our law is like the ones being struck down. The law that the Legislature passed in 2011 requires voters to show either a S.C. driver’s license or ID card issued by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, a federal military ID, a U.S. passport or one of the photo voter registration cards that election commissions now issue to people who request them.
The State Election Commission has issued nearly 46,000 voter registration cards with pictures since the law took effect in 2012.
But after Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the federal government to let us implement it, a federal appeals court upheld the law — as it interpreted that law. Check that: The court upheld the law as Mr. Wilson interpreted it in his attempt to keep the judges from overturning it. That is, that would-be voters without a photo ID merely need to certify that they have a “reasonable impediment for not having a photo ID,” such as lack of a birth certificate or transportation or “any other obstacle you find reasonable.”
That interpretation — not in state law but in the court order that now effectively serves as state law — prohibits election officials from questioning what voters define as “reasonable.”
In today’s mobile society, where poll workers are no longer likely to recognize everyone who comes to the polling place, it’s reasonable to require an easily verifiable form of identification — not because we’ve been plagued by fraud; simply as a precaution. But that needs to be balanced by a recognition that there are S.C. citizens — not as many as critics believe, but not an insignificant number — who have been voting for decades, who do not have any of the state-approved photo ID cards and who would have a difficult time getting one. They tend to be from the era when many people were born at home.
It would have been easy to grandfather them into the law. But the Legislature declined to do that, and so it is Mr. Wilson’s more liberal interpretation of our law that is the law.
Now, here’s my two-question constitutional quiz.
1. Which of these statements offends you?
a. Americans have to show a photo ID to board an airplane, so there’s nothing wrong with making them show one to vote.
b. People can be kept off of airplanes because they can’t pass a security check, so there’s nothing wrong with keeping them from buying guns as well.
c. Both statements offend me.
d. Neither statement offends me.
2. Do you recognize that people who answer “a” or “b” don’t really care about the Constitution but are merely fixated on their particular political priorities?
So … where were we? Oh, yes: If you’re worried you won’t be able to cast a ballot against either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton because you don’t have an acceptable photo ID, stop worrying. You can.
And if you’re worried that the elections will be stolen because we don’t have the voter ID law that the Legislature passed, stop worrying. There’s no evidence that voting fraud has been a statistically significant problem in South Carolina, and what does occur is largely through absentee ballots — which South Carolina’s law never even attempted to tighten up.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.