A panel of three federal judges ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina's voter identification law is not discriminatory and unanimously cleared the law, but since too little time remains between now and election day, the law won't go into effect until next year. "South Carolina's new voter ID law is significantly more friendly to voters without qualifying photo IDs than several other contemporary state laws that have passed legal muster," wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh in his decision today. Though people like South Carolina's Attorney General Alan Wilson consider today's decision a victory, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division blocked and opposed South Carolina's law in December after it found, as Talking Points Memo's Ryan J.Reilly reports, that "registered non-white voters were 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack state-issued photo identification" and that it violated the Voting Rights of 1965 which outlawed discriminatory voting practices. (Also, this study from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School came to the conclusion that the kind of voter fraud combatted by voter ID "simply does not exist.")
Kavanaugh and the panel's decision spoke directly to that concern that fewer people would be allowed to vote under the new law. In the court's decision, he writes that the law still allows people to vote without a photo ID.
South Carolina’s new law, Act R54, likewise does not require a photo ID to vote. Rather, under the expansive “reasonable impediment” provision in Act R54 – as authoritatively interpreted by the responsible South Carolina officials, an interpretation on which we base our decision today – voters with the non-photo voter registration card that sufficed to vote under pre-existing law may still vote without a photo ID. Those voters simply must sign an affidavit at the polling place and list the reason that they have not obtained a photo ID.
But the decision adds that the affidavit-accompanied vote turns into a provisional ballot and can still be thrown out:
To confirm the voter’s identity to the notary (or, in the case of a notary’s unavailability, to the poll manager) who witnesses the affidavit, the voter may show his or her non-photo voter registration card. The affidavit also must list the voter’s reason for not obtaining a photo ID. Together with the affidavit, the voter may cast a provisional ballot, which the county board “shall find” valid unless it has “grounds to believe the affidavit is false.”
The Justice Department has not yet issued a comment.