COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A panel of federal judges has ruled that several voters represented by the American Civil Liberties Union can take part in a legal challenge over South Carolina's new voter ID law.
The judges on Tuesday granted a request made last month by the ACLU. The group said it represented several voters who would have difficulties voting under the new law. One of the voters, a white woman, had to hire an attorney to help her get legal documents so that she could get the right South Carolina identification, which she still doesn't have, according to the ACLU.
Two black voters don't have the money to hire attorneys the ACLU says they would need to help get delayed birth certificates. The ACLU also represents a black woman who runs a nonprofit group that helps people register to vote and, under the new law, would be forced to spend her resources trying to make sure people have the right IDs rather than registering new voters.
South Carolina is suing to overturn the U.S. Justice Department's December rejection of the law, which the agency said could mean that tens of thousands of the state's minorities might not be able to cast ballots because they don't have the right photo ID. Justice officials also said the law failed to meet requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires the Justice Department to approve changes to South Carolina's election laws because of the state's past failure to protect blacks' voting rights.
South Carolina's was the first such law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years. The agency has since rejected Texas' new law, and that state is seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.
In his lawsuit, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson argues that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department were wrong to reject the law enacted last year, and asks a three-judge panel to declare that the rejected portions of the law are not discriminatory.
Wilson also said South Carolina's law is similar to one in Indiana that has already been upheld as constitutional, noting that at least 31 states require voters to show some sort of ID at the polls and 15 states have enacted photo ID requirements. Since 1988, South Carolina law has required voters to show either a voter registration card or some sort of government-issued ID to be allowed to vote on a regular ballot.
Passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina's law also required the state to determine how many voters lack state-issued IDs so that the Election Commission can inform them of law changes. The Department of Motor Vehicles will issue free state photo identification cards to those voters.
A scheduling conference in the case is set for April 13 in Washington, where the case is filed. The judges have also asked Wilson to file court papers identifying the latest date on which the photo ID requirement must become effective to apply to the November 2012 elections.
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