S.C. voter photo ID card a “ticket” to making one’s voice heard

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comMarch 8, 2014 

Growing up in Alabama, Algielean Simpson watched “young people” protest and march for the right to cast a ballot.

“They went through a lot,” she said Saturday after sitting in front of a computer that, at the click of a button, took a photograph of her face and superimposed it on a paper card. “If you want change, then you have to have your voice heard through voting.”

At 66, she’s been a poll worker for nearly 15 years, first in New York and now in Rock Hill. She’s spent hours at the polls, watching lines stretch out the door.

So, when it was announced that she and everyone else who wanted to vote in South Carolina would need a photo ID at the polls, she wasn’t turned off. It makes more sense to have the photo on the card, she said, instead of rifling through purses and pockets to show ID – which makes the voting process longer.

On Saturday, Simpson and about a dozen others walked out of Boyd Hill Baptist Church in Rock Hill with a free paper voter registration card attached to their photo. In two weeks, they’ll receive their official, plastic voter registration card, with their picture emblazoned on the front.

State law requires voters to have one of several forms of identification to vote: a South Carolina driver’s license, a South Carolina ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, a military ID (including Veterans Affairs card), a passport or voter registration card with a photo.

Having a photo ID to vote became law in 2011.

Opponents said the requirement was discriminatory, meant to suppress minority voting.

Supporters said it would reduce instances of in-person voter fraud.

Federal judges upheld the law, but delayed implementing it until 2013. They also ruled that certain provisions must be enforced for people unable to produce a photo ID at the polls.

Voters can list “reasonable impediments” to obtaining an ID, such as religious objection to being photographed, disability or illness, inflexible work schedule, lack of transportation, lack of birth certificate, family responsibilities or any other “reasonable” obstacle.

People fitting those criteria are given provisional ballots that requires producing a non-photo, but current voter registration card and signing an affidavit attesting to their identity.

State election officials have issued more than 13,000 new voter registration cards with photo IDs since the law went into effect.

The new rules haven’t been used in a general election yet. Last year in York County, residents had to show a photo ID to vote on a Fort Mill school bond referendum and in the October Rock Hill city council elections.

For those elections, the county voter registration office had a mobile photo ID station at each precinct, said Beth Covington with the county’s voter’s registration and elections commission. They plan to keep doing that, she said.

The county hasn’t encountered any difficulties at the polls so far, she said, and poll workers are trying to combat the misconception that a photo ID through the county’s voter’s registration office is the only way to cast a vote.

When he first heard about the new law in 2011, Dwight Jones, 62, said he was a tad surprised, but said residents should not let the new rules discourage them from showing up at the polls.

“We need to vote to get the things that we want done,” he said. “A lot of (blacks) are not going to want to do it” because they feel ‘it decreases your voting strength’. Hopefully, that wasn’t the plan. Hopefully ... we’ll do it to keep our voting strength where it needs to be.”

Reaching the black community, historically “the last to get the news,” and quashing perceptions about the law is needed to increase voter turnout, said the Rev. James Barber, Boyd Hill Baptist Church’s pastor.

When Barber, 74, grew up in Rock Hill, blacks didn’t have much of a voice, Barber said. They didn’t have the “privilege” of attending schools with whites, and wore hand-me-down football helmets and jerseys. Now, they’re starting to “come up,” he said. Voting is paramount to that progress, he said.

His 51-year-old son, James Barber, managing director of a financial consulting firm, agrees. Hosting a free voter ID event at a church makes an impact, he said.

“The church is a mecca of information,” the younger Barber said before posting signs in the community and messages about the event on Facebook. “The African American church has, for years, been ... invested in the betterment of the community.”

Saturday’s event was nonpartisan, a boon for people in the community who did not have to worry about competing agendas, he said.

Throughout the day, more residents came and went, including Rock Hill City Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo, who represents Ward 1. Saturday, she got her photo ID. Changes are inevitable, she said, even when they’re questionable.

Presenting the photo ID is “their ticket, she said of residents.” Casting the vote, “it’s their voice.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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