COLUMBIA — A spokesman for the state Election Commission said the lack of problems at the polls during last month’s primaries shows South Carolina’s voter ID law is working well.
But critics said the effects are not yet known.
The June 10 primaries represented the first statewide test of the law since it was implemented last year.
“The numbers reflect what we haven’t heard from voters,” said agency spokesman Chris Whitmire. “We don’t hear complaints about not being able to vote or being disenfranchised or general complaints about the new photo ID requirements.”
He attributes that to the training of county election officials and voter education efforts.
Of the nearly 453,000 votes cast, 44 in at least 39 counties reporting were not counted because the voter didn’t provide a valid photo ID. All of those were people who told poll workers they didn’t bring their driver’s license, or other acceptable photo ID, with them, then failed to present it later. The law allows those who forget their photo ID to vote a provisional, or paper, ballot. It won’t count, however, unless they show the ID at their county election office before officials certify results days later.
Voters who don’t own a photo ID also can cast a paper ballot after signing an affidavit that a “reasonable impediment” kept them from getting one. All of those votes were counted. It’s unclear how many were cast, since counties detailed to the state only uncounted provisional ballots. But the numbers appear to be very low. A total of 18 were cast in the 18 counties that responded to a survey by Wednesday – seven of those counties reported no one voted that way, according to the Election Commission.
S.C. Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, said the low numbers show the law, which he pushed as preventing fraud at the polls, did not burden voters as critics feared.
“That the first election went without a hitch regarding voter ID is an indication to us all that voter ID is working in South Carolina,” said Clemmons. “The registered voters in South Carolina have confidence that concerns raised of fraud at the polls have been responded to and their vote is being counted for its full value.”
But Brett Bursey, director of the South Carolina Progressive Network, said it just shows the law was an unnecessary, partisan measure that confused voters. He stresses the photo ID law, as upheld by a three-judge federal panel in October 2012, doesn’t actually require a photo ID to vote. It just requires those without one to vote on paper after giving a reason they couldn’t get a photo ID.
“Thanks to the U.S. District Court, it was revised to make it easier for people to vote as opposed to harder,” Bursey said.
Attorney General Alan Wilson had sued after the U.S. Justice Department blocked the law.
The court based its ruling on Wilson’s broad interpretation of the “reasonable impediment” clause and Election Commission director Marci Andino’s testimony on how it would be implemented. Votes cast under that provision will be counted unless someone proves to election officials the voter was lying on the affidavit. So far, that hasn’t happened, Whitmire said.
The federal panel unanimously found the law was not discriminatory because of the safeguards in it, and that there was no discriminatory intent.
As the court noted, the law added three forms of photo ID to the list of previously accepted identification for voting: a military photo ID, a passport and a new photo voter registration card, which voters have been able to get for free at their county election office since December 2012.
As of July 1, some 23,186 such cards had been created statewide. Any registered voter can get one. It’s unknown how many sought one out of necessity and how many just wanted their voter registration card to include a photo, Whitmire said.
Susan Dunn, an attorney with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said turnout was too low in the primaries to know the law’s effect. Just 16 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primaries.
“If we have a general election with a large turnout, we don’t know how it’s going to affect the lines,” Dunn said.
But she said the numbers do show that state officials are honoring what they told the court concerning the affidavits.