1/17/2013 11:19:27 AM
By Barney Blakeney
Branchville’s Jan. 8 municipal elections was South Carolina’s first test of its controversial new voter ID law. By most accounts the election went smoothly. But critics say the new law still is an unnecessary hurdle for voters and expense for taxpayers which changes little in the state’s voting process.
Charleston County Elections and Voter Registration Office Director Joseph Debney said virtually nothing will change in the way South Carolina voters cast ballots as the controversial new law is implemented this year.
As long as a South Carolina voter is registered, has either a valid South Carolina drivers License, Identification Card, military ID or U.S. Passport he will be allowed to vote. Voters without any of those documents still will be allowed to vote if the voter swears he has a reasonable impediment that prevents him from obtaining one of those documents.
Such reasons include religion, transportation, illness, lack of birth certificate, work, family responsibilities or other reasonable impediment. The reason can’t be challenged by poll workers or managers, Debney notes.
Because the new law is so permissive there’s no real need for properly registered voters to obtain a new registration card which which will have a photograph of the holder. The process of getting a new voter registration card also is about the same, he said.
New registrants must present a photo ID such as one of the aforementioned IDs or something with the applicants name and address on it such as a bank statement, Debney said.
The Progressive Network Executive Director Brett Bursey said it’s important that voters know they are able to cast their ballots under the new law even without a photo ID.
He emphasized however, the new law is not the same one passed by the South Carolina Legislature. U.S. Federal Court judges amended the much more restrictive law passed by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2011, he said.
South Carolina’s voter ID law cost the state an unnecessary $3.5 million and had it withstood legal scrutiny would have kept some 180,000 voters from the polls, Bursey said. In the end no photo ID is required, he said.
Republicans argued that voter fraud prompted the legislation. But only one allegation of vote fraud has surfaced in the state in the past decade. Democrats say the bill was about disenfranchising Democratic voters, essentially, Black voters.
The S.C. NAACP Conference of Branches and other organizations such as the S.C. ACLU co-ordinated efforts to stop the new law.
The past year of court battles amounts to a confusing waste of tax dollars and a clear attempt to make it harder for citizens to vote, Bursey said.
Bursey, like South Carolina ACLU Executive Director Vickie Middleton and Charleston NAACP Branch President Dot Scott think proponents for the law have accomplished some measure of the mission to restrict voting. They anticipate some confusion as the voting year unfolds.
Branchville’s election was miniscule in comparison to the upcoming First Congressional District special election May 7 when voters will elect a successor to former Cong. Tim Scott.
Debney said Charleston County voters also will hold municipal elections on Sullivans Island and Megget May 7. Voters in Awendaw, Charleston, Isle Of Palms, McClellanville, Mount Pleasant, Ravenel and Rockville will hold municipal elections later in November.