COLUMBIA — A decision could come as early as today from the U.S. Justice Department on whether voters will have to show state or federal photographic identification when they vote in South Carolina elections.
Today marks the end of a 60-day review period for the new law, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the state Election Commission.
“We expect to hear something by Monday,” Whitmire said.
That word could mean approval, rejection or that the Justice Department has more questions and will take more time to review the law. South Carolina’s history of voting rights violations require federal oversight of election law changes, including requiring voters to show photographic identification.
The new law requires voters to show a South Carolina driver’s license or state-issued ID card; a new state voter registration card with a photo; a federal military ID or a passport. People who lack those photo IDs will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but will have to produce the ID within three days for those votes to count.
Thirty states require an ID to vote and half of those require photo identification, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is has asked the Justice Department to reject the law.
Democrats and other groups have challenged the photo ID requirement, saying the new law will disenfranchise voters. State estimates show that 178,000 voters don’t have driver’s licenses and are currently registered to vote. Advocates say those affected are mostly elderly, black and have trouble getting state-issued identification and documentation.
On Friday, Senate Democratic Caucus members filed a protest to the new law with the Justice Department. Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, said the state failed to put in failsafe protections that would make sure people have a chance to vote, including added early voting time and a change in how provisional ballots are handled when voters don’t have the required identification.
Malloy said South Carolina’s law is tougher because it requires current and valid photo identification — meaning people with a suspended driver’s license may not have their votes counted.
The law “is a suppression of votes and obviously it targets those minorities and those over 65 in a way that’s almost equivalent to a poll tax,” Malloy said.
Republicans who pushed the change, Rep. Alan Clemmons of Myrtle Beach and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison of Columbia, say it will prevent voter fraud in South Carolina.
Whitmire said the state has been responding to Justice Department questions on the proposal, including about how voters can continue to vote using absentee ballots by mail.
And they’ve wanted details on a new voter registration system that will allow county election and registration offices to imprint photographs on registration cards for people who don’t have the required state or federal identification. The system that uses those cameras won’t begin until October.
Brett Bursey, executive director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, which has lobbied against photo ID efforts for years, said Justice Department approval would likely bring court challenges to stop the law.