[JURIST] Six South Carolina civil rights groups on Friday urged the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to block the state from implementing a new law [R54 materials] that would require voters to present photo ID in order to cast their ballots. The coalition, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina [advocacy websites], argued in a letter [text, PDF] to the DOJ that the new law would suppress the minority vote. According to the groups, there are more than 178,000 registered voters in South Carolina who lack a valid photo ID [table, PDF], and African-Americans are disproportionately affected. The groups also argued that African Americans face social and economic barriers to obtaining valid photo ID and that the law is in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 [DOJ backgrounders]:
The voter ID provision of Act R54 is racially discriminatory and will have a retrogressive impact on the voting rights of minorities in South Carolina. Because there is ample evidence of its retrogressive impact, and given the dearth of evidence for its need, South Carolina has failed to meet its burden under Section 5. For these reasons, we strongly urge the Department to deny the State’s request for preclearance or, in the alternative, request more information regarding the law’s application and impact on minority voting rights.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, requires states such as South Carolina, with a history of voter suppression, to get approval for changes in their voting laws, so the DOJ has the power to block the law from taking effect.
There are now 30 US states that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 14 states that require photo ID, but the issue remains controversial. In June, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [official website] vetoed legislation [JURIST report] that would have required individuals to present government-issued photo ID at the voting booth. In May, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld a state law [JURIST report] that requires voters to present one of six government-issued photo identifications in order to vote. In contrast, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] struck down [JURIST report] a portion of an Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration in October.