SC will recoup “tens of thousands” of $3.5 million bill for voter ID lawsuit

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2013 

— South Carolina will recoup “tens of thousands of dollars” of the $3.5 million it spent to sue the federal government over the state’s controversial voter ID law, according to a spokesman for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Wilson told a legislative panel Friday the total price tag for the state’s lawsuit was $3.5 million – more than three times his original estimate. Lawmakers on the Joint Other Funds Committee then approved a $2 million budget adjustment for Wilson’s office to pay for the lawsuit.

But late Friday, a federal three-judge panel ruled that, because South Carolina was “the prevailing party,” the federal government had to pay some of the state’s expenses. Attorney General spokesman Mark Powell said Monday the office expects to recoup “tens of thousands of dollars.”

In October, the Attorney General’s Office asked the court to order the federal government to pay $90,379.59 of the state’s expenses. But that figure most likely will be reduced because the court specifically excluded some expenses.

The state Legislature passed a law in 2011 requiring voters to show a photo ID in order to vote. In December 2011, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office blocked the law from going into effect, saying it would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of S.C. voters – most of whom are minorities – who do not have a photo ID.

Wilson sued. In October, a three-judge panel upheld the law provided the state allows voters to opt out of the photo ID requirement by signing an affidavit that they have a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID.

The state’s first election under the new voter ID law is today in Branchville, a tiny town in Orangeburg County that is electing a new mayor.

Democrats say the $3.5 million expense was a waste. State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said the law upheld by the court is not the same law that lawmakers passed in 2011.

“They are trying to claim a victory when they could have avoided spending millions,” Hutto said. “The whole trial could have been avoided if they had done what they did at the trial prior to the trial.”

Most of the state’s expenses – $3.5 million – were to pay attorneys. The state is not allowed to recoup those expenses.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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