A panel of federal judges ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina’s new voter ID does not have a discriminatory effect, but they also blocked it from going into effect in November.
South Carolina had many of the same problems Texas encountered in trying to get preclearance of its Voter I.D. law. But the final result in the two states was light years apart. South Carolina’s version was approved by a D.C.-based federal panel, but Texas’s Voter I.D. law was not. The difference was that South Carolina substantially changed its Voter I.D. law during the trial. Texas made no such effort.
The new South Carolina law was revised during the trial to include a “reasonable impediment” provision, which allows a prospective voter to cast a ballot by after informing poll workers about circumstances that prevented them from obtaining photo identification. Such an impediment could be illness, cost, lack of transportation, or other such problems. This played a crucial role in the decision. The court ruled that state and county officials “may not review the reasonableness of the voter’s explanation” for why they couldn’t obtain photo ID. Such a provision would be very useful in a large state like Texas, where people without photo IDs might have to travel a considerable distance to the nearest DPS office to obtain one.
The Texas Voter I.D. law was rejected by a different D.C. federal court because, the court said, it imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.”
South Carolina wanted a voter I.D. bill and it was willing to make concessions to get one. This sort of thing does not happen in Texas’ toxic political climate. Yes, the South Carolina compromise is a little screwy. But South Carolina has a functioning Voter I.D. bill. (The D.C. court blocked the bill from taking effect this year, because it could not be implemented before election day, but it will become operative in 2013 and thereafter.) Meanwhile, Texas lost its court battle and faces a continuing fight over Voter I.D.
In explaining the “reasonable impediment” provision, the D.C. court said, “A voter may assert any of the myriad other reasons for not procuring one of the required photo IDs, such as: ‘I had to work,’ ‘I was unemployed and looking for work,’ ‘I didn’t have transportation to the county office,’ ‘I didn’t have enough money to make the trip,’ ‘I was taking care of my children,’ ‘I was helping my family,’ ‘I was busy with my charitable work,’ and so on.”