South Carolina law could deny tens of thousands of minorities chance to vote

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A new South Carolina voter identification law could cause tens of thousands of people, especially minorities, to be turned away at the voting booths during the 2012 presidential election.

State officials are taking the proposed law to the federal court on Monday, in an attempt to convince a panel of three judges that the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gives the federal government the power to approve or reject all voting laws and procedures in states with a history of voter discrimination.

The voter ID law implemented in 1988 requires a state-issued voter registration card and signature at the voting booth. The new law would require photo identification at the polls. Acceptable forms of ID would be cards issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, military IDs, passports or state voter registration cards.

The Justice Department ruled against implementing the law last year, concluding it was discriminatory – but it is now being reconsidered.

According to the NAACP, 25 per cent of African-Americans and 16 per cent of Latinos nationwide lack government-issued photo identification. Federal officials found that minority voters are 20 per cent more likely than white voters to not have the ID required to vote under the new law.

In South Carolina, more than 80,000 people lack the required photo identification to vote and will therefore be adversely affected by the new law, according to the Justice Department.

Photo IDs are sometimes hard to come by for some voters, especially those who do not have a copy of their birth certificate or have lost all documents required to apply for a federal ID card.

Donna Dubose, 63, is one such case. Delivered at home by a midwife who recorded her name incorrectly on her birth certificate, she was without the relevant information. Her husband lost all of his personal documents when his childhood home burned down. It took Dubose, an attorney and help from a civil rights activist, to obtain a photo ID- her husband still languishes without one.

“It makes me really frustrated to not be able to vote all of a sudden,” James Dubose, 75, told NBC News.

Acquiring an ID also costs money, which may stop low-income families from getting the necessary documents.

A new voter identification law in Pennsylvania has been found to prevent 9 per cent of minorities from voting this election, the Pennsylvania Department of State announced. According to research by the Philadelphia City Paper, almost half of Philadelphia voters and 1.6 million of the state’s voters may be banned from partaking in the election as a result of lacking the proper identification.

If South Carolina’s new voter ID law passes, it will be among 11 states that require photo identification at polling booths.

Supporters of the law argue that stricter laws would prevent voter fraud, but there is little concrete evidence of voter fraud having occurred in the past.

“South Carolina’s photo ID measure is a solution in search of a problem. Credible studies show that one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to perceive an instance of in-person voter fraud,” Ryan Haygood, a lawyer at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, told CNN. “The [upcoming] trial will make clear that the state’s proposed photo identification measure will have a significant impact on its minority voters.”

In February, the State Election Commission identified several cases of voter fraud during the 2010 elections. But upon closer examination, five out of six cases of “fraud” were a result of clerical or poll worker errors, such as marking the wrong voter’s name in the poll book, National Public Radio reported. The sixth case was marked “fraudulent” because the voter had sent in an absentee ballot and died shortly thereafter.

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s law found that not a single case of alleged voter fraud had been prosecuted or investigated before the law went into effect. Regardless of the insufficient evidence to prove the necessity of photo ID, the law was passed.

Some public officials claim that if South Carolina approves the new law, the results of the 2012 presidential election could be significantly altered.The legislative change stands to block tens of thousands of potential voters from casting their ballots.