The 1965 Voting Rights Act was created to combat the systematic disenfranchisement of minorities, especially in Southern states with a history of discrimination through literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department Thomas Perez recently notified South Carolina that its requirement for photo identification law for voting was in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The bases for this decision was simply that 8.4% of the state’s registered white voters lacked photo ID compared to 10% of the registered nonwhite voters. The law does not mention race at all which means it equally applies to all voters.
In 2005, the Justice Department approved a Georgia law with the same provisions and protections of the one nixed for South Carolina. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that an Indiana law requiring photo ID did not present an undue burden on voters.
Holder’s Justice Department is on weak ground. The South Carolina law and Indiana law are identical; furthermore, South Carolina’s law, like Indiana’s, explicitly addresses potential disenfranchisement by offering state-issued IDs free of charge. When civil-rights groups fretted about the ability of minority voters to get to the local Department of Motor Vehicles to pick up a free state-issued ID card, Governor Haley created an 800 number to offer free rides to anyone who couldn’t afford the transportation. About 30 people called.
In October, the South Carolina Department of Elections reported that some 240,000 state voters lacked ID cards. The DMV now says more than 200,000 of those had allowed their IDs to expire, lived in other states or were dead.
South Carolina is challenging the Justice Department ruling in the federal courts. In all likelihood, it will go to the United States Supreme Court where it will be defeated based on the ruling rendered previously in Indiana’s Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case.
Attorney General Holder will eventually have to defend his decision to strike down the South Carolina law in court. What particularly weakens his case is that he just targeted South Carolina but not Indiana. The 14th Amendment calls for equal protection which means that what applies to one state must apply to all statements in protecting civil rights. If the laws are identical and South Carolina offers free ID cards to all voters, then Holder is just playing racial politics in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008.