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South Carolina Voter ID Case Going Poorly for the State

Another court case is taking a run at the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5, which gives the Justice Department pre-clearance authority over any voting law changes in states with a history of racial discrimination. We already saw Section 5 upheld when a federal court struck down the Texas redistricting maps because of their discriminatory and disenfranchising intent. Now South Carolina is challenging Section 5 by appealing a ruling against a voter ID law in their state.

Unlike in Pennsylvania or other states not covered by Section 5, the issues behind this case are much clearer, and rooted in racial disparity. If South Carolina cannot prove that there is no possibility for a racially disparate impact from the voter ID law, they will not get their law approved. The fact that a co-author of the law could not cite one example of in-person voter fraud, presumably the reason for enacting the law, makes it difficult for the state. Because then you have to look at the discriminatory aspects as the end goal.

During morning testimony, state Sen. George “Chip” Campsen III cited examples of fraud that he took into consideration while drafting early versions of South Carolina’s law. These included vote buying, voter rolls indicating a woman who showed up at the polls had already voted, and press reports of voters being registered in both South Carolina and North Carolina.

But under questioning from Justice Department attorney Anna Baldwin, Campsen, a Republican, said the examples he gave did not involve the type of fraud that requiring photo identification would address.

“None of the examples you gave in your testimony involved incidents of impersonation?” Baldwin asked.

“Correct,” Campsen answered. He also said he could not find cases of voter impersonation in South Carolina, but added that the state lacks the tools to root them out.

Worse for South Carolina, a separate lawmaker had to admit that he responded positively to a racist email about the voter ID law.

Garrard Beeney, who represented the civil rights groups, presented emails sent to and from Clemmons’ personal account between 2009 and 2011, when he was working on the law. One, from a man named Ed Koziol, used racially charged rhetoric to denounce the idea that poor, black voters might lack transportation or other resources necessary to obtain photo ID. If the legislature offered a reward for identification cards, “it would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon,” Koziol wrote.

Beeney asked Clemmons how he had replied to this email. Clemmons hesitated a moment before answering, “It was a poorly considered response when I said, ‘Amen, Ed, thank you for your support.’”

Beeney also contended that Clemmons, a Republican, wrote the law to suppress Democratic votes. Blacks in South Carolina typically vote Democratic. Beeney asked Clemmons whether he remembered distributing packets of peanuts with cards that read “Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID.”

Clemmons said he did not, though Beeney said he had testified in June that he did.

It’s hard to see how a court will overturn the Justice Department, given this background. More important, this will further cement the propriety and importance of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Clearly, given the racial component to the War on Voting, it’s necessary.

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David Dayen

David Dayen