The Justice Department has put the brakes on enactment of a proposed election-law overhaul signed by South Carolina’s Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, saying it wants more evidence that the changes will comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The department requested additional information from the state’s election commission about the law, which requires voters to present photo ID at the polls—a sign that the department has reservations about the changes. South Carolina is one of nine states that must receive preclearance for any changes made to election law.
Election-law officials must convince the Justice Department that it has adequate notification procedures to inform South Carolina voters of the election-law changes. In addition, the department is requesting greater specificity of the dates and locations for voters seeking government-approved ID.
Marci Andino, executive director of the state election commission, told the Hotline that the commission "hopes to provide something to Justice in a couple weeks." She said that discussions are already underway on how to address concerns.
Asked about the roughly 178,000 Palmetto State voters without government-approved identification, Andino said her office will "work very hard" to ensure no citizen is disenfranchised. Her office has a comprehensive list of voters without appropriate identification, she added.
"Assuming we receive preclearance, we will install camera equipment at the 46 county boards of registration to provide our citizens with the identification to vote," said Andino.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina has been advocating against the law. "It reiterates our position that there is no evidence of voter impersonation. The new requirement represents an unnecessary burden on voters," South Carolina ACLU executive director Victoria Middleton said.
While Florida and Texas have sidestepped the Justice Department by petitioning the federal district court for approval of their election law changes, Andino reaffirmed the commission's commitment to receiving Section 5 preclearance. "While we can't speak for the governor's office, we have not discussed district-court preclearance," she said.
The Voting Rights Act requires that any changes to election laws in nine states, including South Carolina, receive preclearance from either Justice or federal district court before taking effect. The Justice Department has approved Virginia's and Louisiana's election law changes, dispelling some Republican concerns that a Democratic-controlled agency would reject election-law changes in conservative states.