S.C. voter ID effort dead, for now



COLUMBIA --- The controversial effort to require South Carolina voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot died Tuesday, but Republicans are vowing to start over strong next year.

"It will be a priority, and unfortunately we weren't able to pass it this year," state Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said Friday.

The House and Senate could not resolve differences over the proposal, which also created a one-week, no-excuse early voting period for one location per county. It had been subjected to a Democrat-led filibuster.

Calling the voter ID bill "the top priority for the Republican Party in 2010," House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, scolded Senate Republicans for failing to defeat the Democrats' obstructing maneuver.

"The House Republican Caucus, along with the leadership of our party, will come back next session reinvigorated and ready to fight this battle again. It will not get easier for the Senate Republicans," he said.

Peeler declined to address Bingham's criticism.

Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said Friday he was anticipating a return to the issue next year and that the next governor will also have a hand in shaping the outcome. Hutto said he hopes the new debate will favor a longer early-voting period, an expanded list of accepted forms of ID and greater flexibility for counties that need more than one early-voting location in order to avoid long lines.

"We don't know, as we debated on the floor, of any allegation where there's been people showing up at the polls claiming to be one person and being someone else," Hutto said. "There's nothing wrong with trying to guard against those, as long as we make it easy for people who don't have an ID."

Next year's return to the debate might also bring a repeat of the animosity it stirred.

Last year, three-dozen members of the Legislative Black Caucus and several white Democrats walked out of the House chamber in protest of the bill, likening the effort to a poll tax and Jim Crow-era attempts to keep poor blacks from voting. Some Democrats said the push to require photo ID's was a Republican strategy to combat the waves of new voters who registered in order to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

A final hurdle to any change is the U.S. Justice Department. South Carolina is among the states subject to the Voting Rights Act, so a change in the law would require federal approval.

Currently in South Carolina, early voting is allowed in the form of casting an absentee ballot ahead of an election. Only those who meet certain conditions, such as suffering a disability or a recent family death, qualify for this form of early voting.

The new legislative session begins in January.