WASHINGTON — Some county elections directors in South Carolina say a 2011 state voter-ID law would amount to a poll tax, according to testimony and documents revealed Wednesday in a federal trial to determine whether the law is discriminatory.
South Carolina is suing the Department of Justice for blocking the law, which would require voters to show one of five forms of photo identification before casting ballots. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, election laws passed by states with histories of discrimination against minority voters are subject to federal review.
According to the Justice Department, black voters in South Carolina are less likely than whites are to have driver’s licenses, passports or other accepted forms of ID, and they may lack the resources to obtain them. The case is being heard this week by a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.
If voters have a “reasonable impediment” to acquiring photo ID, the law permits them to cast ballots after signing notarized affidavits. But several county election directors have complained in an online forum about the difficulty of finding notaries who will work for free, state elections director Marci Andino confirmed. Garrard Beeney, an attorney for national civil rights groups that have joined the case against South Carolina, presented documents Wednesday in which elections directors called the notary requirement “ridiculous” and “a poll tax.” He asked Andino what she planned to do if not enough notaries could be found.
“If something unforeseen happens and there’s no notary there, voting has to go on,” Andino said.
Beeney pressured Andino to say that she would be asking county officials to defy state legislation.
“We’re lawful people,” Andino said. “We follow the law. But there are some areas that are gray.”
Andino’s testimony came a day after state Rep. Alan Clemmons, a Republican, admitted that he’d responded positively to a racially charged email in support of the voter ID law.
The email, sent by a man named Ed Koziol, compared black voters to “a swarm of bees going after a watermelon.” Clemmons replied, “Amen, Ed, thanks for the support.”
A spokesman for South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Rob Godfrey, wrote that Clemmons and Koziol’s exchange, “while highly regrettable and ignorant in its language, does not change the fact that this legislation was passed with the honorable intention of preventing voter fraud.”
After Andino left the witness stand, Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science associate professor, testified that according to his research, South Carolina’s law wouldn’t disproportionately burden minorities as the Justice Department has claimed.
Hood analyzed a database of South Carolina’s registered voters and compared it with records from three organizations that issue the IDs accepted under the law: the Department of Defense, the State Department and South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Among whites most likely to vote in South Carolina this year, about 4.3 percent lack accepted identification, Hood said. Among minorities most likely to vote, about 6.2 percent lack accepted identification.
Richard Dellheim, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, questioned Hood’s methods, noting that he’d failed to weed out deceased voters and those who had moved out of the state.
A more revealing statistic from Hood’s data, Dellheim said, was that whites were 1.45 times more likely than blacks to own accepted forms of photo identification. He reminded Hood that Hood had testified previously that this was a significant disparity.
Gina Smith of The State in Columbia, S.C., contributed.