COLUMBIA -- South Carolina Democrats on Tuesday decried a tentative agreement requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls as a suppression tool aimed at minorities, and accused Republicans of pushing through an unnecessary and costly measure.
A committee of House and Senate members agreed last week to limit the measure to voter identification -- a priority this year for Republicans who control both chambers. On a 5-1 vote, the committee reverted to the House version of the bill, removing a two-week window of early voting and photo ID exemptions for the elderly that the Senate had added.
Republicans have contended it's a matter of voter integrity. The House and Senate must decide whether the agreement will hold and go to the governor's desk.
Last year, the measure died with the two chambers unable to reach a compromise.
Currently, voters can show their voter registration cards, which lack pictures, or driver's licenses. Under the measure, they must show driver's licenses, photo IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, passports, military IDs, or new voter registration cards that include photos. The bill allows adults to get a free photo ID from the DMV.
About 178,000 voters lack a driver's license or DMV photo ID -- 7 percent of registered voters. The Senate waiver for voters 65 and older would've exempted 47,820 of those voters, according to the Election Commission.
Opponents have argued for three years that the measure will suppress the vote of minorities, the elderly and the disabled. Securing even a free photo ID will be burdensome, especially for adults who lack the documents, including a birth certificate and Social Security card, needed to secure one.
"They don't want people to vote. They want longer lines," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia. "We are simply disenfranchising those who can least afford it."
Democrats argued there are no cases in South Carolina of someone trying to vote using someone else's information. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, argued it's impossible to know if that's happened, but the measure would prevent it.
Columbia Sen. John Scott, the lone Democrat who voted no on the conference committee, said he hoped it would at least accept the Senate version.
"This is a bad bill for all," he said Tuesday at a Legislative Black Caucus news conference. "Voting is a right of every citizen."
Republicans have argued that people should be used to showing a photo ID, noting that's required whether cashing a check, buying cold medicine or boarding a plane. But Democrats countered those aren't constitutionally protected rights.
House Republicans had insisted on a "clean bill" that dealt only with voter ID, saying disagreement on the specifics of early voting could prevent its passage.
Senators said they will try to get early voting through as a separate measure. The Senate voted Tuesday to bypass the committee process on an early voting bill, in an attempt to make the May 1 deadline for bills moving from one chamber to the other.
A House bill allowing five days of early voting in one location per county is up for debate Wednesday in a subcommittee. The deadline means it has no chance of passing this year.