South Carolina’s voter id law is not “strict” compared to similar laws in other states, as it requests but does not require a photo ID for citizens who show up at the polls to vote. According to the state’s law, voters who have a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a photo ID are allowed to sign an affidavit listing their impediment and cast a regular ballot. Their ballot counts unless someone proves that they lied about their identity.
The state would likely have passed a stricter law — one that required a photo ID for all voters — had they waited until after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Since their law was passed before the ruling, it would have likely been blocked by the Department of Justice’s preclearance process.
This distinction is crucial, and is being blurred by South Carolina election officials in advance of the state’s primaries. Check out this poster that’s appearing near polling locations around the state (hosted on the state’s election assistance website):
To be clear, the affidavit exception is listed on the poster…in the fine print near the bottom. To the passing observer, all they see is “PHOTO ID REQUIREMENTS NOW IN EFFECT” in big red block letters, when in fact there is no hard and fast “requirement” that voters have a photo ID. Rather than erring on the side of encouraging people to vote, South Carolina is erring on the side of making voting seem at once tedious and intense. The poster is clearly meant to imply that South Carolina’s requirements for voting are the same as those in states with strict photo ID laws on the books, and in doing so they are making voting seem more difficult than it actually is.
According to Kira Lerner of ThinkProgress, this isn’t the only misleading poster the state is using to “educate” its voters about the state’s photo ID law. This poster — which lacks the explanatory fine print included in the poster above — was found in a county election commission office:
As more research is done on voter ID laws, one of the patterns that’s emerged is that the laws affect the voting behavior of more than just the people who don’t have the necessary ID. By making voting seem more difficult than it actually is, they discourage otherwise-eligible people — who are disproportionately non-white — from showing up in the first place. Posters like this do exactly that. So while 178,000 South Carolinians don’t have any of the forms of ID that South Carolina is requesting at the polls, the very act of making voting seem less like going to the grocery store and more like going through security at an airport is likely to discourage even more people from bothering to participate.