South Carolina Voter ID Law Upheld

A panel of three judges at the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled today that South Carolina’s Voter ID Law (Act R54) is permissible, but that it cannot properly be implemented before this year’s election and must be delayed until 2013. The court’s order (released today) regards the South Carolina law as “not [having] a discriminatory retrogressive effect,” and that the Act “allows citizens with non-photo voter registration cards to still vote without a photo ID so long as they state the reason for not having obtained one.” (Order, p. 3.)

Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, writing for the court in the case of South Carolina v. United States (Civil Action No. 12-203), expressed the opinion of the court that the law enacted by South Carolina “satisfies Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” making it permissible, but that the short time left before the 2012 elections prohibited its implementation until elections taking place in 2013.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which is the type of statute about which 1Ls have nightmares) “requires certain States…to obtain pre-clearance of proposed changes in state or local voting laws.” (Order, p. 4.) “Pre-clearance must be obtained from the U.S. Attorney general or from a three-judge court of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.” (Id.)

The main reason for the permissibility of the Act is that it includes a “reasonable impediment” provision, allowing “registered voters with non-photo voter registration cards to vote without photo IDs, so long as they fill out an affidavit at the polling place and indicate the reason that they have not obtained an R54-listed photo ID.” (Order, p. 7.) Testimony at trial by South Carolina’s Attorney General and the Executive Director of the State Election Commission indicated that “a driving principle both at the polling place and in South Carolina state law more generally is erring in favor of the voter.” (Order, p. 9.) The court also analyzed the South Carolina law in light of other states that have enacted voter ID laws, such as Indiana, Georgia, New Hampshire, and Texas—the last of which enacted a law that did not pass legal muster.

Finally, “the Court cannot conclude that Act R54 can be properly implemented in time for the 2012 elections,” (Order, p. 31) so it delayed the implementation of the law until 2013. The court was clear that a number of difficult steps would need to be completed for the reasonable impediment provision to be properly implemented, mainly:

In the course of just a few short weeks, the law by its terms would require: that more than 100,000 South Carolina voters be informed of and educated about the law’s new requirements; that several thousand poll workers and poll managers be educated and trained about the intricacies and nuances of the law…and that county election boards become knowledgable of the law….”

(Order, p. 31–32.)

The court also notes that the South Carolina legislature established deadlines indicating the belief that implementation of the law would take around 11 months.

Finally, the court leaves open the possibility that the Act may be enjoined by a future action, according to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act (Order, p. 35.), and proceeds to outline a number of scenarios under which the Act could be challenged in the future.

(photo: Shutterstock: 19993480)