ACLU: Voter ID ads potentially misleading

Ads, posters and postcards the state has prepared about the state's new photo identification law for voting leave out a key fact: mail-in absentee voters don't need a photo ID. / Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) -- Ads, posters and postcards the state has prepared about the state's new photo identification law for voting leave out a key fact: mail-in absentee voters don't need a photo ID.

Instead, they declare in blaring red type "VOTING NOW REQUIRES PHOTO ID" and tell voters to make sure they have one of five forms of identification. But the state's laws on absentee voting haven't changed and the new photo ID law only applies to people voting in person.

State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said that's why educational materials don't mention absentee voting not requiring a photo ID.

"The reason it's not there is that there's no change to the absentee-by-mail process. The materials focus on changes," Whitmire said.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed the bill into law in May that requires people casting ballots to show poll workers a state-issued driver's license or ID card; a U.S. military ID or a U.S. passport.

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Supporters say photo identification is required to curb voter fraud. Opponents say supporters have never been able to show ID fraud and that the law will suppress voter turnout, especially among blacks.

Wednesday South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson responded to U.S. Justice Department questions on the state's new law.

The response made up mostly of material generated by the state Election Commission includes an estimate that nearly 239,000 of the state's 2.7 million active and inactive voters don't have state-issued driver's licenses or ID cards with photos.

The Justice Department has to approve South Carolina election law changes under the Voting Rights Act.

The Election Commission is asking for expedited approval so that it can implement the changes before the Jan. 21 presidential primary.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are challenging the law.

ACLU voting rights lawyer Katie O'Connor said the Election Commission's education materials "are confusing, incomplete, and potentially misleading" and fail to offer the absentee voting option.

"As they are now written, the materials will leave voters with the impression that they will need ID to vote, without exception," O'Connor said. "And this impression is simply incorrect. It's frustrating to see the state spending so much taxpayer money on unhelpful public education for an unnecessary law."

Whitmire said he'll continue to tell reporters that voters can cast mail-in absentee ballots without photographic identification. "I also wouldn't rule out its inclusion in printed education materials in the future," he said.

In South Carolina, registered voters can vote absentee for nearly a dozen reasons, including working on Election Day, being disabled, 65 or older, taking care of someone who is sick or being in jail awaiting trial.

Absentee voting is mentioned in an updated pamphlet outlining voting in South Carolina. However, that pamphlet doesn't mention that no photographic identification is required when casting an absentee ballot by mail.

Even with the new law, South Carolina's voter registration offices won't require photo identification to register to vote. While people may provide a photo ID, they are only required to provide a Social Security number and some other proof residence, such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck.

Meanwhile, people can vote absentee at local voter registration offices. If the Justice Department approves the law, people can use an existing voter registration card to get a new registration card with a photo on it if they lack the required photo identification.

An Associated Press analysis of the Election Commission's data showed the new law affects black voting precincts more than white precincts.

The South Carolina Election Commission website has more about voter registration and the South Carolina voter registration form.

What do you think? Is the poster misleading to potential voters? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)