In South Carolina, over 900 deceased individuals allegedly voted in the last presidential election. This claim, issued by Governor Nikki Haley and DMV Director Kevin Shwdeo early in January, was made in support of South Carolina’s voter ID law. Blocked by the U.S. Justice Department the month before, the law requires voters in South Carolina to provide a state-issued photo ID.
Dr. Heather Hawn, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina and a strong opponent of the law, stated that South Carolina Republicans “have created a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.”
But another argument lies at the heart of this debate: suppression and discrimination towards minority groups, especially African Americans and college-age students.
“It is voter suppression. There is no getting around it,” Hawn claims. She goes on to state that these laws, which have started to appear around the nation, are deliberate forces to suppress minority groups. “All of these laws stem from the fact that non-white voters have been increasing by a half percent for the past few years. So you can see across the nation a huge influx of minorities. And in these areas that are wholly republican, laws for voter ID requirements have sprung up.”
A large part of these minority groups, both Latin American and African American individuals, lack driver’s licenses. As a result, they would be forced to acquire a SC photo voter ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles by providing a birth certificate and proof of residency. The problem is that many of the minorities who lack driver’s licenses also lack birth certificates.
“Nikki Haley is trying to a do a patchwork fix,” says Hawn. “To get a photo ID you have to provide a birth certificate. To get a birth certificate you have to provide a photo ID. It’s a mess.”
But interestingly, Hawn’s primary argument is not with the law itself. “Voter fraud is always going to be a problem. But this new crop of concerns and the timing of those concerns is what I have a problem with. I don’t believe anyone is ignorant to what is happening. They (Republicans) know exactly who they are affecting.”
Hawn even compares the fundamental right of voting with that of owning a gun. “This is a bill that restricts a right. If a governor tried to propose a bill to restrict our second amendment right to possess a gun, Republicans and people in general would be all over it. And voting is a more fundamental right than the others.”
But ironically, even with the right to own a gun, the owner must still verify that he/she is rightly the owner and has had the training to possess such a right. If voting is indeed a “more fundamental right than the others,” than shouldn’t legislatures take even more precaution in protecting that right?
This is the position Senator Kevin Bryant from Anderson, South Carolina has taken concerning the voter ID law. “Some people may call this bill voter suppression,” he says. “I tend to think it’s the opposite. In not requiring a voter ID and having the ability to steal one legal vote with an illegal vote, that is true voter suppression.”
Although one of the strongest conservatives in the state house, Bryant in no way ignores or denies the controversy that has been warranted by such a law. “It was the first time that we had really seen a vote straight down party lines. It has been the most opposition we have ever seen for a bill in the senate.”
When questioned about the effects of the proposed law on minorities who don’t have a photo ID and would be unable to attain one, Bryant stated that absentee voting, which does not require an ID, is still an option.
In addition to minorities, out-of-state college-age students wanting to participate in the South Carolina elections would also have to vote absentee without a SC photo ID. Emily Anderson, a sophomore English major at the University of South Carolina, does not think this is an acceptable solution.
“I don’t think a lot of people will take the time to vote absentee if that is what they have to do to vote,” says Anderson. “It’s a longer process. I think the kids who really care will find a way to vote, but I think there will be a scramble in November for the people who realize it’s the presidential election and want to vote but they have no way to do so. That’s when we are really going to be able to see the problems this is causing.”
In the end, Emily has chosen to simply vote absentee for her home state of Massachusetts. “I would rather vote here because I am interested in local politics, and I spend 8 out of 12 months here. But it will be easier to vote absentee from home.”
Unlike Emily, Erik Carlson, a freshman Sport and Entertainment Management major from Virginia doesn’t feel inconvenienced by the new law and was planning all along to vote absentee in his home state. “I really don’t think it will affect that many students. Most students won’t even vote, but that’s another problem entirely. I think the bill has been well thought out and the state government has produced a law that will, in the long run, benefit the state.”
Erik also commented about the argument of suppression. “I believe the bill is more on the liberation side rather than suppression. It’s making every vote count.”
Ultimately, the debate may prove to be futile. South Carolina recently decided to sue the Justice Department for blocking the voter ID law in hopes that the case will be brought before the Supreme Court and overturned.