South Carolina’s voter ID law is working well, according to state Election Commission officials. But, thankfully, it’s working well because it’s not working as its legislative sponsors intended it to.
Election commission officials say the June 10 primaries represented the first state-wide test of the law since it was implemented last year. They say they have heard no complaints from voters about not being able to cast a ballot or being disenfranchised.
But that’s essentially because the law can easily be circumvented. It was rendered largely toothless by federal courts.
South Carolina passed a law in 2011 that required voters to show a photo ID before they could vote. Republicans praised the law as protecting the integrity of elections. Democrats criticized the law as disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians – mostly minorities – who did not have a photo ID.
In December 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the bill from taking effect. South Carolina sued, and a federal three-judge panel upheld the law in part, they said, because the state agreed to allow voters to opt out of the photo ID requirement if they had a “reasonable impediment” and signed an affidavit attesting to that.
The court also ruled that local election commissions “may not review the reasonableness of the voter’s explanation.”
Of the nearly 453,000 votes cast in last month’s primaries, only 44 in at least 39 counties reporting were not counted because the voter did not provide a valid photo ID. But all of those were people who told poll workers they didn’t bring their driver’s license or other acceptable photo ID with them, and then failed to present one later.
But the outcome was different for those who said they had no photo ID. All of those who signed an affidavit saying they had a “reasonable impediment” to getting a photo ID – such as not having an official birth certificate – were allowed to vote.
The number of those who signed affidavits apparently was extremely low. Early surveys have found only 18 statewide.
We continue to believe that, at best, the voter ID law is a solution in search of a problem. Supporters of the law have failed to provide any credible evidence that widespread voter fraud exists in South Carolina or, for that matter, in any state.
At worst, the voter ID law is a thinly veiled effort to suppress the votes of those least likely to have a valid voter ID, namely minorities and younger voters. But the rules the state was forced to accept apparently have prevented that from happening, at least this time.
The June 10 primaries were not a particularly good test of how the law affects voting patterns. Just 16 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, and those who did were likely to be committed voters who have the required ID.
A more valid test is likely to take place during the 2016 presidential elections when a much larger percentage of voters turn out to cast ballots. But if the primaries are any indication, this unnecessary law won’t prevent legitimate voters from casting a ballot even if they have no photo ID.
In other words, we can take comfort from the fact that South Carolina’s photo ID law is not likely to keep legitimate voters from casting a ballot – even if they don’t have photo ID.