COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s new voter photo identification law appears to be disproportionately affecting minority voters in one of the state’s largest counties and black precincts elsewhere, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
For instance, nearly half the voters who cast ballots at a historically black college in Columbia lack state-issued photo identification and could face problems voting in next year’s presidential election, according to the analysis of precinct-level data provided by the state Election Commission.
In surrounding Richland County, the state’s second-most populous county, the percentage of minority voters without the IDs is also higher than what it is statewide. The same is true for majority-black Orangeburg County.
“This is electoral genocide,” state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said. “This is disenfranchising huge groups of people who don’t have the money to go get an ID card.”
State Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the numbers show there is work ahead for the state.
“It means they would have to take some action to get proper ID,” Whitmire said.
South Carolina’s photo identification law requires people to show a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, a military ID or passport when they vote. Without those forms of identification, they can still cast a provisional ballot or vote absentee. The U.S. Justice Department has been reviewing the law for months under the federal Voting Rights Act.
South Carolina is among the five states that passed laws this year requiring some form of ID at the polls, while such laws were already on the books in Indiana and Georgia.
Proponents of the laws say they will prevent fraud, although even they are hard-pressed to come up with large numbers of cases around the country in which someone tried to vote under a false identity. Opponents say the laws are a way to effectively keep minorities, traditionally Democratic voters, away from the polls. They argue that blacks, Hispanics, senior citizens, people with disabilities and the poor are more likely to lack the required photo ID.
In South Carolina, previously-reported statewide numbers suggested that, overall, the law’s effect on white and nonwhite voters would conform to the state’s voting demographics: 70 percent of the state’s 2.7 million registered voters are white and 30 percent are nonwhite. Meanwhile, 66 percent of the 216,596 active, registered voters without state-issued photo IDs are white and 34 percent nonwhite.
But the numbers can skew differently at the local level. Lacking state-issued IDs are 11,087 nonwhite voters in Richland County and 4,544 in Orangeburg County. That means half the voters affected by the law in Richland County aren’t white, and in Orangeburg County it’s 73 percent.
A statewide look at the 2,134 individual precincts also indicates that black precincts are some of the hardest-hit. The analysis shows there are 10 precincts where nearly all of those affected are minorities, a total of 1,977 voters.
The same holds true for white voters in a number of precincts, but the overall effect is much more spread out and involves fewer total voters: There are 44 precincts where only white voters are affected, or 1,831 people in all.
The precinct that votes at Benedict College in Columbia, has 2,790 voters, including nine white voters. In that precinct, 1,343 of the precinct’s nonwhite voters lack state identification, but only five white voters do.
Karen Rutherford has run voter registration efforts at the private, historically black college across town from the Statehouse and a couple of blocks from the county’s voter office for years. She said students had a tough time in the 2008 election as their IDs were challenged at the precinct. “They were upset because someone was trying to take away their ability to vote.”
A precinct at state-run South Carolina State University has 2,305 active voters, including 33 white voters. There, 800 nonwhite voters and 17 white voters there lack state IDs.
The new law doesn’t bar voting for people without photo identification, but it can create hurdles. They’ll still be able to vote absentee by mail, go to voter offices and get new voter registration cards with pictures or cast provisional ballots that require them to later produce the ID.
The state is offering free ID cards. To get those, people have to show documents that include their name, such as birth certificates, marriage or divorce records.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley supports the law and offered voters without IDs free rides to state offices to get them last month.
The law requires the state to develop a list of names of people who lack state-issued identification. And the Justice Department has asked the state to document how it will reach out to those voters. South Carolina’s election law changes have to be cleared by federal authorities because of past voting rights abuses.