South Carolina Voter ID Not in Effect for 2012, Law Weakened for Future Elections

October 10, 2012

Law Could Have Hurt Thousands of Minority Voters


Erik Opsal

Brennan Center for Justice


Stacie Royster

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law


Peggy Brown

League of Women Voters of South Carolina


Barbara Zia

League of Women Voters of South Carolina


Washington, D.C. – South Carolina voters will not need to show a photo ID to vote in this year’s election, a federal court ruled Wednesday, the latest in a series of legal victories against restrictive voting laws.

The court ruled there was not enough time left to implement the law for 2012. It will be in effect for future elections, but the court clarified aspects of the law so that it “does not require a photo ID to vote.” Instead, South Carolinians can continue to use their non-photo voter registration card after 2012, so long as the voter states the reason for not having obtained a photo ID.

“As the leading democracy in the world, our voting system should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans,” said Keesha Gaskins, Senior Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “We are pleased this law will not be rushed through close to this election, and that the judges took steps to protect the voting rights of those citizens who lack ID, ensuring access to the ballot box for many South Carolina voters.”

In 2011, a wave of restrictive laws passed that could make it significantly harder for millions of eligible Americans to cast ballots this fall. The South Carolina decision comes after a series of legal victories striking down voter ID laws in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina, along with the Justice Department and others, presented evidence showing the law would make it unnecessarily hard to vote — potentially disenfranchising thousands of minority voters at a greater rate than the white electorate.

“Voting is the most sacred part of our democracy,” said Barbara Zia, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. “By restricting this fundamental right, engaged citizens would have had to jump through hoops to make their voices heard. The court made the right choice in protecting this important civic duty,” added League Co-President Peggy Brown.

“We are pleased that the Court recognized that South Carolina’s photo ID law raised a real risk of discrimination, and that the risk of discriminatory effects in the upcoming election is too great to allow the photo ID law to be used this year," said Bob Kengle, Voting Rights Project Co-Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "The Court went to great lengths to be sure that the very specific interpretation of the law that it is preclearing for 2013 and beyond will minimize the potential for minority citizens to be denied the right to vote. We strongly agree with Judge Bates’ concurrence, joined by Judge Kollar-Kotelly, highlighting the positive role that the Section 5 preclearance process had in reshaping the law as originally written to prevent discriminatory effects on minority voters."

“In the last decade, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with bipartisan support, and President George W. Bush signed it into law,” said Armand Derfner of Derfner, Altman & Wilborn. “This critical legislation is more important than ever to protect minority voting rights in this country.”

South Carolina’s voter ID law is just one in a wave of restrictive voting measures that states adopted in 2011. See the Lawyers’ Committee’s “Map of Shame” displaying the states that enacted these restrictive voting measures, and the Brennan Center’s 2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina joined the case, South Carolina v. Holder, as defendant-intervenors with Mr. Craig Debose, a South Carolina voter. The League is represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono by the law firms Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Derfner, Altman & Wilborn LLC.