S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson on Tuesday said the state will file suit against the U.S. Department of Justice, which last month rejected the state's new Voter ID law requiring all voters to show a valid state-approved photo ID in order to cast a ballot.
Wilson said his office planned to file suit within the next 10 days in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, .
"Our intent is to ensure … that no voter is suppressed in their right to vote and that the integrity of the electoral process is protected," said Wilson, who appeared with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, state House Speaker Bobby Harrell, state Sen. Kevin Bright, and several state lawmakers at a noon press conference at the Statehouse.
It was a fear of , passed last May, in the first place.
Last month, Justice’s Civil Rights Division said the state's statute is discriminatory because its registered minority voters are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a state-issued photo ID.
Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal "pre-clearance" on voting changes to ensure that they don’t hurt minorities’ political power. That mandate is a vestige of the state's Jim Crow era, and earlier, when grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests were used to suppress minority voting.
"The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands," Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a letter to South Carolina officials following DOJ's ruling in December.
Presently, voters need only show their driver's license or voter registration card to vote.
"Our citizens want us to exercise our constitutional right to secure our state’s election process from fraud and abuse with Voter ID," Harrell said. "Given all the facts, it is clear how unjust President Obama’s Department of Justice has been to our state and why state lawmakers are supporting the appeal of the rejection."
Wilson said the new law would actually ensure that all voters are enfranchised and that each voter's ballot would count. Of the estimated 239,233 registered voters with no appropriate photo ID, Wilson argued that 37,000 of those people are deceased, 91,000 no longer live in the state, and another 20,000 are registered, but go by different names.
"If you vote, and someone else votes fraudulently, they’ve suppressed your vote," said Bright. "It’s exactly the opposite of what the Obama administration has accused us of."
Pressed, however, to cite a specific instance where the lack of a state-approved photo ID has led to voter fraud, Haley was unable to do so.
Haley reiterated that the state has taken pains to help those without proper ID get one, citing a program last year that provided rides for people to their local Division of Motor Vehicles office. Haley said that "less than 30" took advantage of the offer statewide.
Wilson noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of a similar Georgia law, and added that the South Carolina law even goes a step farther, allowing voters with no ID to sign an affidavit affirming their identity.
Haley, Wilson, Harrell, and Bright all argued that photo IDs are required for a wide array of things, from signing up for Medicaid, to purchasing certain over-the-counter or prescription drugs, to boarding airplanes.
Making a photo ID a requirement of voting, they argued, should be no different.
"The will of the people was that we want to protect the integrity of the voting process," Haley said. "And if you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on a plane -- you should have to show an ID to do that one thing that is so important to us, which is that right to vote.
"The House passed it, the Senate passed it, and I signed it," she added. "What we saw was the continued war on South Carolina that continues to happen -- like Boeing, like illegal immigration, and now we're seeing it with Voter ID. This has got to stop, and you will see us fight -- and you will see us fight hard."
Black state Rep. Todd Rutherford, of Columbia, called Haley's argument ludicrous. He stormed the podium after the press conference and said that voting is a fundamental Constitutional right -- buying Sudafed is not. And equating the two is preposterous, he said, as is the Haley Administration's whole rationale behind Voter ID.
"Can anyone show me in the Constitution where it says you have the right to buy prescription narcotics?" he railed. "At least one person will be affected by this law. And at a minimum, according to their numbers, 30,000 who do not have IDs in South Carolina will not be allowed to vote. They have done nothing to address that.
"They tell people they will give them rides. That is disingenuous at best," Rutherford added. "Nothing they have said today addresses what the true issue is … all they have done is create a problem that there was not before."