COLUMBIA — The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday asked a federal judge for permission to get involved in a lawsuit over South Carolina’s new voter ID law, saying it represents three voters who have been unable to get the photo identification required by the law in order to vote.
The state is suing to overturn the U.S. Justice Department’s rejection of the law in December.
The agency said tens of thousands of the state’s minorities might not be able to cast ballots under the new law because they don’t have the right photo ID.
It was the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.
One of the voters, a white woman, had to hire an attorney to help her get documents including a marriage license, divorce decree and original birth certificate so that she could get the right South Carolina identification, which she still doesn’t have, the ACLU argued in a motion filed Friday.
Two black voters don’t have the money to hire the attorneys the ACLU says they would need to help get delayed birth certificates.
“The outcome of this action may, as both a legal and practical matter, impair or impede applicants’ ability to protect their interests,” attorneys for the ACLU wrote. “These applicants will be unable to vote on in-person election day and, as a result, will be limited solely to casting absentee ballots.”
The ACLU also represents Brenda Williams, a black woman who runs a South Carolina-based nonprofit group that helps people register to vote. Under the new law, the ACLU argued, Williams would be forced to spend her time and resources trying to make sure people have the right IDs rather than registering new voters.
The Department said the new law failed to meet requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which also requires the Justice Department to approve changes to South Carolina’s election laws because of the state’s past failure to protect blacks’ voting rights.
Earlier this month, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sued U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, arguing the U.S. Justice Department was wrong to reject the law enacted last year. In the lawsuit, Wilson asks that a panel of three federal judges consider the case and declare that the rejected portions of the law are not discriminatory.
Wilson also noted that South Carolina’s law is similar to one in Indiana that has already been upheld as constitutional, saying that at least 31 states require voters to show some sort of ID at the polls, and 15 states have enacted photo ID requirements. Since 1988, South Carolina law has required voters to show either a voter registration card or some sort of government-issued ID to be allowed to vote on a regular ballot.
The federal government has not responded to Wilson’s lawsuit. The ACLU said it has already had similar motions granted in other voting rights cases, including in Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina.
“South Carolina’s voter ID law is a prime example why the Voting Rights Act is necessary and relevant today,” said Nancy Abudu, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “If it were not for the protections that the Voting Rights Act provides, South Carolina and many other states would enact discriminatory voting laws that make it harder for minorities to vote.”
Passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s law also required the state to determine how many voters lack state-issued IDs so that the Election Commission can inform them of law changes. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue free state photo identification cards to those voters.
The federal review of South Carolina’s law sparked a dustup between state agencies over the number of residents who lack state-issued IDs. On Thursday, the Election Commission said its review of allegations that fraudulent votes were cast using the names of dead people found no evidence that any such ballots were cast. The commission reviewed information provided by the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles and found clerical errors, poor data matching, errors in assigning voter participation and voters dying after being issued an absentee ballot as reasons for the confusion, Executive Director Marci Andino said. She said 207 out of 953 suspect cases were reviewed in detail.
Earlier this year, DMV Executive Director Kevin Shwedo told House members an analysis of voter ID data found 953 people who appeared to have voted after their death.