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On Friday, the Department of Justice issued a letter objecting to South Carolina’s new voter ID law (section 5 of Act R54) on the grounds that non-white voters are 20% more likely to be disenfranchised by the act.
U.S. PIRG democracy advocate Blair Bowie hailed the decision, saying, “we applaud the Department of Justice for taking an aggressive stance against this anti-democratic piece of legislation.”
The DOJ’s letter points out that out of the 2.7 million total registered voters in South Carolina about 240,000 do not possess any forms of identification that would satisfy the requirements to vote under the new law. That’s 8.9% of current voters who would be unable to participate if the election were held tomorrow.
South Carolina is just one of over a dozen states (including Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Montana, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, and North Carolina) which have passed or have attempted to pass restrictive voter ID laws this year. In all cases, the legislatures point to fighting voter fraud as motivation, however, as the DOJ objection points out is true for South Carolina, there is little or no evidence of fraud nor is there evidence that such measures would deter fraud if it did exist.
“These laws create unnecessary burdens to citizens who have been voting legally for years and to those seeking to get on the rolls for the first time,” according to Bowie. “Around the world people are fighting and dying for the right to vote and yet in our country, some state legislators are working to make it more difficult to exercise the right we have.”
In South Carolina, only 58% of the population is registered to vote. “Rather than passing laws that place unnecessary hurdles in front of voters, our representatives should be looking to ensure every eligible voter can engage fully in the democratic process. Measures like same day registration or modernizing the process to better utilize technology are good examples. The idea behind any change in election law should be to strengthen our democracy, not stifle it.”
“We hope that the Justice Department’s action will serve as a warning to other states considering enactment or enforcement of similar legislation,” Bowie continued. “We applaud to Department for seeking to protect the rights of eligible voters.”
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U.S. PIRG is the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy groups that take on powerful interests on behalf of their members. On the web at uspirg.org.
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