Justice Department Blocks New S.C. Voting ID Law

The Justice Department has blocked a new South Carolina voting law, saying it violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The state law requires voters to present a photo ID in order to vote. The Justice Department says the law disenfranchises minorities, but the state says it protects against voter fraud. For more, Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Pam Fessler.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The Justice Department this afternoon rejected South Carolina's new voter ID law, arguing that it would violate a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The department says the law would disproportionately place a burden on minority voters, who are less likely to have the required photo ID. This decision is a major setback for the state, which said photo ID is needed to protect against voter fraud.

NPR's Pam Fessler has been covering the issue and she joins us now. And, Pam, what did the Justice Department say to justify this decision?

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Well, Robert, as you know, South Carolina is one of several states that because of past discrimination is required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get clearance from the Justice Department whenever they make any kind of changes in their voting laws.

So, after the state enacted the law this summer, the Justice Department looked at some of the numbers that the state gathered about how many registered voters didn't have a driver's license, which would most likely be the main form of ID that people would show. And the state said it found about 240,000 registered voters didn't have a driver's license or a DMV-issued ID card.

And when the numbers were broken down by race, it turns out that non-white voters were about 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack the required ID, which the Justice Department said was discriminatory. The department also noted that the state did not submit any evidence of any in-person voter fraud, even though that was the justification for requiring photo ID.

SIEGEL: So, the Justice Department has rejected South Carolina's law. What has the response been from South Carolina?

FESSLER: Well, the state is saying it's going to fight the decision. The attorney general says he'll fight in federal court. And Governor Nikki Haley was quoted in South Carolina newspapers of calling the decision outrageous. The state is able to appeal the decision in district court, and also could probably appeal it further to the Supreme Court.

In a kind of an interesting twist today, this week the state's director of Motor Vehicles sent the Justice Department some new figures this week, arguing that the numbers really weren't as high as they had originally said. That really it wasn't 240,000 registered voters who didn't have the required ID, but a lot lower number, closer to about 30,000. And the Justice Department said that those new numbers didn't refute the fact that minorities might be less likely to have the required ID.

SIEGEL: So, what if any, are the implications here for voter ID laws in states other than South Carolina?

FESSLER: Well, as I say, it's very likely that the states are going to appeal the case. It could, in fact, end up before the Supreme Court and it could become the vehicle for deciding not only whether these ID requirements are constitutional, but also whether Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - which is the section that is requiring pre-clearance - whether that is constitutional.

As you know, a number of states that are covered by Section 5 have been challenging its constitutionality and would really like to no longer have to get clearance from the Justice Department when they make changes in their voting laws. They say, you know, these are things that were based on discrimination many, many, many years ago and they no longer should be required to have Justice Department approval.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Pam.

FESSLER: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Pam Fessler.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: