Voters would need more than just CarolinaCard
South Carolina’s voter identification bill, signed by Gov. Nikki Haley in May and aimed at preventing voter fraud, has already received intense criticism and official objections from those who say it purposely discriminates against the poor, the uneducated and minorities — groups that traditionally vote Democrat.
Much of the focus has been on how the law, which requires voters to present valid and current photo identification at the polls, may disenfranchise blacks, who are less likely to have such identification. But the legislation will affect another minority group that has been largely overlooked: college students.
The law, which must receive “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Justice Department before taking effect due to the state’s history of civil rights violations, requires voters to show one of the following IDs: a South Carolina driver’s license, another photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, a passport, a military photo ID issued by the federal government or one of the new South Carolina photo ID voter registration cards created by the law. Student IDs are not accepted. By Sept. 1, eight states had enacted voter ID laws. Three of those states — Texas, Minnesota and South Carolina — don’t accept student IDs as valid state-issued identification.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy joined the South Carolina Democratic Caucus in filing an objection with the Justice Department over the law at the beginning of the month. He said the law disproportionately affects young voters.
“Young people from ages 18-21 represent 6 percent of the voting population of South Carolina,” said Malloy. “But 11 percent of voters without IDs are 18-21.”
In an e-mail response, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said requiring a photo ID to vote was as “common sense” as requiring an ID to buy Sudafed or get on an airplane.
“Our goal here is to get more people engaged in the process — including students — and not less, and to secure the integrity of our electoral process,” Godfrey responded.
Malloy said voting is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution, while getting on an airplane is merely a privilege. He added that the state’s polling places should accept more forms of photo ID and, like Georgia, accept IDs that are no longer “valid and current.” Malloy stated in his objection that the phrase disenfranchises voters for arbitrary reasons, such as having their driver’s licenses revoked.
“The question should be: ‘Is your picture on that document?’” Malloy said.
Robert Oldendick, a USC political science professor and the executive director of the Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, said the fact that the law does not accept student IDs fits into its purpose of countering voter fraud.
“If all the different colleges and universities around the state were responsible for this, the state would have less control over the actual production of [photo IDs],” Oldendick said. “They don’t want to expand the list of places that can provide official identification, so they’re going to limit.”
Oldendick says he isn’t aware of any documented cases of voter fraud in South Carolina in the 20 years he’s been in the state, though there have been some irregularities and challenges.
“It doesn’t seem to be a really big problem,” Oldendick said. “It’s not a case where you can go to any election and say you have this example of massive voter fraud. Certainly, you can point to nothing like that.”
Critics see in the law an ulterior motive of disenfranchising likely Democratic voters, including the young. They say tackling the seemingly nonexistent threat of voter fraud is not worth the cost of implementing the law, which is $635,000 for the first year and $100,000 each subsequent year, according to the South Carolina Election Commission.
College Democrats President Victoria Black said disenfranchising college students was definitely a motivation behind the bill. She said it would make it extremely hard, if not illegal, for out-of-state students living in residence halls to vote in South Carolina because getting a state-issued photo ID requires having a permanent in-state residency. She said out-of-state students cannot claim residence halls as a permanent residences.
Black added that out-of-state students could still fill out absentee ballots to vote in their home states for non-South Carolina officials, such as the president, but that effectively pushes their likely Democratic votes out of South Carolina.
“Also, that requires a lot of planning in advance, which is something students aren’t good at,” Black added.
Oldendick said that South Carolina students generally vote Republican, but the percentages of Republican and Democratic voters in the student population are much closer than in the state’s general population, which heavily leans Republican.
In an email response, USC College Republicans Chairman Sean Bertran called the law an essential piece of legislation.
“As a student organization, USC College Republicans support the political participation of our college students 110 percent of the time, regardless of political affiliation,” Bertran responded. “However, using a CarolinaCard at the polls is a bit much. You can’t use your student ID to drive, you can’t use your student ID to buy alcohol and you can’t use your student ID to board a plane, to name a few. If you can’t use your CarolinaCard for these minor things, you shouldn’t be able to use your ID to participate in the core process of our Republic.”