COLUMBIA, SC (AP, WACH) - The South Carolina attorney general's office has told the state Election Commission to provide details on voters excluded from an analysis of people lacking state issued identification required by the state's controversial voter I.D. law.
The law passed this year requires voters to show photo identification such as a South Carolina driver's license in order to cast regular ballots at polling places. The law still needs approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
The federal agency wanted details on registered voters that don't have state-issued ID's. Commission officials provided information about nearly 217,000 voters who have voted in the past two general elections.
However, up to 74,000 voters were deemed inactive in 2009 because they hadn't voted in 2006 or 2008. This week, the attorney general's office told the commission to get data on those voters.
"What we're seeing is evidence of an ill-conceived, poorly designed and poorly implemented plan," said Brett Bursey of the SC Progressive Network in reaction to the miscalcuation. "Those are the ones we know. How many don't we know? People will be disenfranchised if this law goes into effect."
Since the measure was first debated at the State House earlier this year, support and opposition for voter ID has split largely along party lines. Democrats say many in the elderly, disabled and minority populations don't have photo identification, and may not be able to get one.
Republicans, including Governor Nikki Haley, argue showing picture ID at the polls will prevent voter fraud.
"What I've always said all along is you just have to make sure that if you're going to go vote we protect the integrity of the process by having a picture ID," said Haley.
In late August, Gov. Haley and Department of Motor Vehicles chief Kevin Shwedo unveiled a plan offering free rides to the DMV for anyone who wanted to obtain a photo ID. Only 25 people signed up for last week's free ride day, however, DMV officials say more than 600 people called their offices looking for more information on how to properly get a state-issued photo ID.
Critics called Haley's free ride program a publicity stunt. But, despite the low participation rate, Haley stood by the merits of the effort.
"Just because we have 25 we're taking to the DMV doesn't mean we didn't help people get the paperwork they needed, put them in the direction of agencies they needed," said Haley. "Our job is to help people and I feel like we thoroughly did that."
If the measure, signed into law by Gov. Haley this past spring, meets federal muster with the U.S. Justice Department, the state Election Commission's Chris Whitmire says " we will begin a major voter education campaign."
Instructions on how to obtain proper ID will be a major part of that campaign.
"It is important for voters to know that if they already have a driver TMs license or DMV ID, it is not necessary to obtain a photo voter registration card, " said Whitmire. "The card is one option for those voters who have no ID, the other being the free, DMV ID. We encourage any voter who does not now have one of the five IDs required under the new law to obtain a DMV ID card now in anticipation of preclearance. If the law is approved, they will be ready to vote. If it TMs not approved by DOJ, the voter will have only lost their time for a trip to the DMV."
Right now, the law requires voters to show one of three ID's to vote:
- Driver TMs License
- DMV ID
- Voter registration card.
Under the new law, if cleared, voters would be required to show one of five ID's to vote:
- Driver TMs License
- DMV ID
- Voter registration card featuring a photograph
- Federal military ID with a photograph
The voter registration card with a photo is currently not available. If the voter ID law is precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice, the photo voter registration card would likely be available around mid-December, but not before federal approval of the law.
The General Assembly appropriated $635,000 to implement the photo ID bill. Those monies are set aside to pay for the photo voter registration card system, as well as voter education.
Despite those outreach efforts, critics of the voter ID measure like Brett Bursey say it is a costly measure that has too many question marks.
"We don't have the money, it's not necessary and we don't know that it's not going to leave people out."