South Carolina voter ID law trial winds down

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorneys planned to wrap up testimony Friday in the federal trial over whether South Carolina‘s voter ID law discriminates against minority voters.

The Obama administration rejected the law requiring voters show specific photo ID at the polls, which prompted South Carolina’s lawsuit.

Closing arguments won’t be delivered until Sept. 24, bringing a decision close to the Nov. 6 elections. But a three-judge panel struck down Texas’ voter ID law on Thursday. The law, like South Carolina’s, was subject to Justice Department approval because of the states’ history of discrimination against minorities.

In the weeklong testimony before a different three-judge panel, South Carolina sought to show the law was intended to detect fraud and build the public’s confidence in the integrity of the election system. State lawmakers who testified denied they had they intended to discriminate when they passed the law.

But lawyers for the Justice Department and groups opposed to the law have raised doubts about the state’s intent by introducing an email exchange with the law’s House sponsor, state Rep. Alan Clemmons. They also questioned witnesses about earlier versions of the voter ID bill that became law were less strict and raised questions about how the state will carry out a provision allowing people to vote without photo ID if they claim a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining the required identification.

“The purpose of (the South Carolina law) was to burden minority voters to a greater extent than white voters and therefore to depress their turnout,” Ted Arrington, political science professor at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, testifying for the government, said Friday.

The South Carolina law allows people to vote if they can show a driver’s license or other photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, a passport, military ID with photo, or a voter registration card that includes a photo.

On Thursday, the panel of the U.S. District Court in Washington asked South Carolina to provide more information about how the state would implement the “reasonable impediment” provision.

Marci Andino, executive director of the state election commission, said voters who could not produce any of the five IDs would be asked if they had a reasonable impediment and asked to sign an affidavit that would be notarized at the polls.

Opponents’ lawyers tried to show that the law is vague and gives a lot of leeway to 46 county boards to decide separately what qualifies as a reasonable impediment. Andino said the poll managers would likely err on the side of the voter but also acknowledged that the counties would have discretion to decide whether they had grounds to believe a claim was false.

In the end, the court must decide whether South Carolina’s law creates such a burden on minorities that it causes them not to exercise their right to vote.

South Carolina’s population is 64 percent white, 28 percent African American and 5 percent Hispanic. More importantly, state election data given to lawmakers before they wrote the law showed 30 percent of registered white voters lacked photo IDs, compared to 36 percent of minority voters.

The trial unfolded during the same week Republicans met in Tampa for their convention and Mitt Romney officially accepted the GOP nomination for president.

Republicans are dealing with a party membership that is increasingly white as the nation’s minority populations have increased.

A wave of states passed voter ID laws last year and this year, in time for some to take effect before the Nov. 6 elections. Critics say they are a direct response to minority turnout in 2008 that helped put Barack Obama in the White House. South Carolina was among seven considered to have the strictest laws.

South Carolina witnesses insisted the law was intended to prevent and detect voter fraud and gave examples of vote-buying and people registered in more than one state.

Clemmons, the law’s House sponsor, said the law “doesn’t disenfranchise anyone.”

A highlight of the trial came when opponents’ attorneys questioned Clemmons about an email exchange with a constituent identified as Ed Koziol. Koziol said in an email to Clemmons that a poor, black or elderly person would get the required ID if the South Carolina legislature announced it was giving away $100 bills.

“It would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon,” Koziol wrote.

Clemmons replied: “Amen, Ed. Thank you for your support of voter ID.”

Clemmons acknowledged the watermelon reference had “a shade of racism.”

The judges on the panel hearing the South Carolina case are district judges Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and circuit judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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