U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn and voting-rights advocates warned Wednesday that laws in South Carolina and other states could disenfranchise millions of Americans in the November presidential elections.
The congressman compared the voter photo ID law that Gov. Nikki Haley signed last month and similar laws in other states with the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws that Southern states enacted, imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and other hurdles to prevent blacks from voting.
“It was effective then, and if we aren’t vigilant, it will be effective today,” Clyburn said. “We must make sure that people are aware of the danger to our democracy.”
South Carolina’s law, which requires voters show a driver’s license, state ID card, passport or U.S. military credentials, has been blocked by the Justice Department and is ensnared in a state lawsuit against the federal government.
State Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, who crafted the state law, defended it.
“Absolutely in no way is our voter ID law discriminatory, even though it has been challenged by (President) Barack Obama’s Justice Department,” Clemmons said. “Any ID that will get you on an airplane in the United States will get you into a voting booth in South Carolina.”
A new report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, singled out recent voter ID laws in South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee for criticism because they don’t allow young people to use student IDs issued by colleges and universities.
The report said a quarter of African-Americans don’t possess the types of photo identification cards required by such laws, compared with 11 percent of all Americans.
In a preemptive strike last December, the Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s then-proposed Voter ID law, saying it would hinder African-Americans’ ability to vote because a third of black registered voters don’t have a driver’s license. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department oversees all election-related laws and regulations in Southern states with a history of racial discrimination.
South Carolina filed a lawsuit in February, asking the federal courts to overturn the Justice Department decision. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, who filed that suit, said the Voter ID law isn’t discriminatory.
“It doesn’t disenfranchise anybody,” he said. “It treats everyone equally. People could still show up on Election Day and sign a sworn affidavit saying they are who they say they are, and they would be allowed to vote. So there’s a safety net there.”
Voter ID laws do not result in fewer African-American voters, Wilson said, citing the experience of Georgia, which enacted a voter photo ID law in 2006. Black participation in that state’s November elections increased afterward – to 741,000 in 2010 from 513,700 in 2006, Wilson said.