Monday, December 26, 2011

DOJ Blocks SC Voter ID Law

Altogether this year, 20 states which did not have voter ID laws and 14 states that already had non-photo ID laws have considered legislation requiring citizens have a photo ID to vote, according to the latest figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those 34 states which considered voter ID legislation, six of them enacted laws: Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

The Voters Rights Act puts the burden on the state to prove that the change in voting isn’t discriminatory in purpose and effect. Section 5 — which requires certain jurisdictions to clear changes to their voting laws with the feds before they go into effect — only applies to two of the states which have passed voter ID laws: Texas and South Carolina. Both states are trying to convince the Justice Department that their laws don’t have the intent or effect of suppressing the minority vote.

Since the legislatures proposing voter ID laws don’t typically come out and say that they’re trying to stop minorities from voting, it’s usually much easier to argue that regardless of what lawmakers intended to accomplish when they passed the law that it would have a discriminatory effect. University of Michigan Law School Professor Samuel Bagenstos stated “the people who are proposing those laws say there’s a problem with voter fraud,” he said. “But since the overwhelming majority of voter fraud that occurs occurs via absentee ballot and not at the polls, there’s a very tenuous connection.”

Just proving that the laws were written to benefit Republicans isn’t enough. “Purely partisan purpose is not something that would violate the VRA,” Bagenstos said.

Department of Justice will block the voter ID provisions of an election law passed in South Carolina earlier this year because the state's own statistics demonstrated that the photo identification requirement would have a much greater impact on non-white residents, DOJ said in a letter to the state on Friday.  

The DOJ decision places the federal government squarely in opposition to the types of voter ID requirements that have swept through mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures.

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