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S.C. sues federal government over voter ID law

Justice Dept. steps in front of voter I.D. law
South Carolina is one of 7 states with new laws requiring a government-issued photo I.D. to vote. Now, the Justice Department has stepped in to block the law, saying it could keep some voters away. Jeff Glor reports.

South Carolina is fighting back against the federal government for blocking its new voter ID law.

The Palmetto state sued the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment determining that the law does not violate civil rights.

"South Carolina's photo identification law does not bar anyone from voting, but merely imposes on voters a responsibility to obtain an approved photo identification card and to bring it to the polls," the state's complaint said.

Last year, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a law passed by the state legislature requiring that registered voters produce a state-issued ID, or a federal substitute such as a passport, at the polls in order to cast a ballot.

The law's proponents argue the law is intended to prevent voter fraud, though voter fraud prosecutions are quite rare. Opponents contend the law would disenfranchise racial minorities, the elderly, and young voters, all of whom are less likely to possess a photo ID. Some opponents describe the law as a latter day "poll tax," citing the cost of obtaining an ID or the documents needed, such as a birth certificate.

Read the complaint (PDF)
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In December, DOJ told the state it found its law discriminatory in part because the state's own data showed that blacks were 20 percent more likely than whites not to possess a driver's license or photo ID issued by the state's department of motor vehicles.

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department has the power to review changes in voting laws and maps in southern states with a history of racial discrimination.

During an NAACP rally in front of the South Carolina statehouse on Martin Luther King Day last month, Holder said, "Let me be very, very clear -- the arc of American history has bent toward the inclusion, not the exclusion, of more of our fellow citizens in the electoral process. We must ensure that this continues."

South Carolina's suit said the law's provisions "do not and will not prohibit any voter in South Carolina from voting for or electing his or her preferred candidate of choice."

The lawsuit noted the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of similar photo voter ID law adopted by Indiana, while DOJ had approved a similar law in Georgia, another state subject to the civil rights review.

South Carolina is one of seven states in the past year, including Alabama and Tennessee, and 15 overall to adopt a photo ID law, the lawsuit said.

The South Carolina law was not in effect during last month's presidential primary.

In 1988, South Carolina began requiring registered voters to produce some form of identification when arriving at the polls. Currently 31 states do, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint was signed by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General in the George W. Bush administration, now in private practice.

An ongoing state review of its voter registration rolls has found 85,000 registered voters in South Carolina lacked a photo ID issued by DMV, but that 37,000 of them were deceased.

The state is also investigating what it says are more than 950 instances where people may have cast a ballot in the name of a dead person.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.