S.C. voter ID lawsuit cost state more than $3.5M

  • Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 9:17 p.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 2:10 p.m.

COLUMBIA — The federal government will have to pay a small part of South Carolina’s $3.5 million price tag for a lawsuit over the state’s tough new voter ID law, a judicial panel has ruled.

Last week, the three judges who presided over the state’s lawsuit said because South Carolina won, it’s up to the federal government to pick up some of the tab.

“South Carolina is accordingly entitled to costs from both defendants and defendant-intervenors,” the judges wrote in an order filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson initially asked the federal government to pay $90,000 in legal costs, but the judges did not set a specific amount for the federal government to pay.

Wilson sued last year after the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the state’s law requiring voters to show specific photo identification at the polls. In its rejection, the Justice Department decided the law violated part of the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters.

South Carolina’s voter photo ID law was subject to approval from the Justice Department because of its history of racial discrimination. South Carolina’s law was the first voting law to be refused federal clearance in nearly 20 years.

The case was sent to federal district court in Washington, where three judges heard arguments last year. In October, the panel unanimously upheld the law, ruling that it would not diminish African-Americans’ voting rights because people who face a “reasonable impediment” to getting an acceptable photo ID can still vote if they sign an affidavit. But the judges delayed its enforcement until this year, finding that the law was not discriminatory because of its safeguards but also noting it would require more time to put those protections against discrimination in place.

Wilson originally said that he thought the suit would cost around $1 million, but spokesman Mark Powell said the tab ballooned as the case dragged on through the court system. On Friday, a legislative panel approved Wilson’s request for an additional $2 million to cover the costs and sent its recommendation for the funds to the Office of State Budget, which has the final say.

The tough new law got its first test on Tuesday, as voters in Orangeburg County’s Branchville selected a new town council representative. The Justice Department has said it will be monitoring the contest.

Last year, Wilson asked the federal government to pay South Carolina more than $90,000. In their order, the judges set out specific expenses that South Carolina may recoup from the federal government, like the costs to transcribe audio recordings of legislative debate over the law, but set no dollar amount.

The judges also mention costs South Carolina can’t recover, like money spent to expedite certain transcripts, and asked the state to submit a revised cost request with those items omitted. Powell said the state should know by the end of the week how much money it can recoup from the federal government.

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