[JURIST] The US Department of Justice [official website] (DOJ) Friday rejected [decision text, PDF] a controversial South Carolina voter identification law [R54 materials]. The DOJ has authority under the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder] to screen new voter laws in states with a history of discriminatory voter practices. The South Carolina law, enacted to prevent voter fraud, would have required residents to present a current government-issued ID to cast a ballot. However, Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Perez said the voter-ID requirement resulted in significant racial disparities and that South Carolina had not met its burden to show that these disparities would not have a discriminatory effect on minority voters.
In sum, however analyzed, the state’s data demonstrate that non-white voters are both significantly burdened by section 5 of Act R54 in absolute terms, and also disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification among the forms of identification that would be necessary for in-person voting under the proposed law … Until South Carolina succeeds in substantially addressing the racial disparities described above, however, the state cannot meet its burden of proving that, when compared to the benchmark standard, the voter identification requirements proposed in section 5 of Act R54 will not have a retrogressive effect.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley [official website] and the state Attorney General Alan Wilson [official website] said [McClatchy report] that they are going to appeal the DOJ ruling of the DOJ. Wilson pointed to the US Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] a similar law in Indiana.
In August, the South Carolina’s Senate Minority Caucus filed an objection [JURIST report] with the DOJ asking for rejection of the new voter ID law. They argued that the new law is too restrictive because it required voters to have both a valid and current identification which would have the result of excluding persons whose licenses are revoked or suspended. This objection followed a previous attempt by several South Carolina civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] (ACLU) and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina [advocacy website] who argued [JURIST report] in their letter [text, PDF] to the DOJ that the new voter ID law would have discriminatory 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 Wisconsin, several civil rights groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] this month challenging the new voter identification law [2011 Wisconsin Act 23]. In June, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon [official website] vetoed [JURIST report] a law requiring persons to present photo identification at voting booth. In March, the Georgia Supreme Court [official website] upheld [JURIST report] a law requiring 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 Arizona law requiring proof of citizenship for voter registration in October last year.