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South Carolina House approves voter ID agreement

Seanna Adcox

The South Carolina House on Tuesday approved an agreement on a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, discounting Democrats' arguments that the measure would disenfranchise voters.

The House voted 71-36 along party lines to accept a compromise worked out last week by a committee of House and Senate members. The Senate expects to take up the agreement later this week. Approval from the Senate would move the measure to the governor's desk.

Democrats decried the measure as a suppression tool aimed at minorities, harkening back to the state's Jim Crow-era past, and accused Republicans of pushing through an unnecessary and costly measure. Republicans contend it's a matter of voter integrity.

The bill, first approved by the House in early 2009, died last year with the two chambers unable to reach a compromise. The agreement limits the measure to voter identification _ a priority this year for Republicans who control both chambers. It removed a two-week window of early voting before Election Day and photo ID exemptions for the elderly _ provisions added in the Senate.

It requires voters to show either a driver's license, other photo ID issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, passport, military ID or upcoming voter registration card that includes a photo. Currently, voters can show their license or voter registration card, which lack a picture.

The bill allows adults to get a free photo ID from the DMV.

More than 178,000 voters lack a driver's license or DMV photo ID. That represents 7 percent of registered voters; 64 percent of them are white. The Senate waiver for those 65 and older would've exempted 47,820 of those voters, according to the Election Commission.

In four counties _ rural Allendale, Jasper and Marlboro, as well as coastal Beaufort _ the percentage of registered voters without such ID exceeds 10 percent, according to the commission.

Opponents have argued for three years that the measure will suppress the vote of minorities, the elderly and the disabled. Securing even a free photo ID will be burdensome, especially for adults who lack the documents needed to secure one, including a birth certificate and social security card.

"They don't want people to vote. They want longer lines," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia. "We are simply disenfranchising those who can least afford it."

Someone who shows up without a photo ID must vote on a provisional ballot, which can be counted if the person brings the ID to the county office before the election is certified. A voter who has no photo ID and no birth certificate to get a free one can vote after explaining that in a signed affidavit.

Democrats argued there are no cases in South Carolina of someone trying to vote using someone else's information. Rep. Alan Clemmons, the bill's main sponsor, argued it's impossible to know if that's happened, but the measure would prevent it.

Columbia Sen. John Scott, the lone Democrat on the conference committee, said he hoped it would at least accept the Senate version.

"This is a bad bill for all," he said Tuesday at a Legislative Black Caucus news conference. "Voting is a right of every citizen."

Republicans have argued that people should be accustomed to showing a photo ID, since that's required whether cashing a check, buying cold medicine or boarding a plane. But Democrats countered those aren't constitutionally protected rights.

House Republicans had insisted on a "clean bill" that dealt only with voter ID, saying the early voting provision doomed the measure last year.

That's because many Republicans who strongly support voter ID don't want early voting, said Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach, noting he's among them.

"I believe Election Day should be Election Day. There can be and have been late game changers in an election," he said. "Once people have voted, they can't take it back."

Senators said they will try to get early voting through as a separate measure. The Senate voted Tuesday to bypass the committee process on an early voting bill, in an attempt to make the May 1 deadline for bills moving from one chamber to the other. It mimics what the Senate passed as part of its voter ID measure, with 11 days of early voting, including two Saturdays before an election, in up to three locations per county.

A House bill allowing five days of early voting in one location per county is up for debate Thursday in Clemmons' subcommittee. Though he opposes the idea, he pledges to give it a fair hearing. The deadline means it has no chance of passing this year.

The Associated Press