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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hey, big spenders: S.C. Tax-and-spend conservatives love throwing money at voter suppression

In South Carolina, the state government doesn’t have a reputation for lavish spending.  In fact, in 2010 per capita state government spending was lower in South Carolina than in all but ten other states.

But state officials in South Carolina turn into the last of the big-time spenders when it comes to throwing money at efforts to suppress voting.
South Carolina was among the Republican-controlled states that jumped on the Voter ID bandwagon last year, passing a law to require all residents to show a photo identification in order to vote. That is a particular hardship for poor people and people of color – who also are more likely to vote for Democrats.

Fortunately, South Carolina is covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Under Section 5 of that Act, the state must get advance approval from the U.S. Department of Justice – called “preclearance” – before changing voting procedures.

The state sued – and spent $3.5 million in taxpayer funds on the lawsuit.  The state is now bragging that it “won” the suit and is getting some of its money back.

Not exactly. 

The law was upheld only after South Carolina responded to Justice Department pressure with a significant change – making it relatively easy for any voter who faced a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a photo ID to vote without one.

As for the money the state will get back, it amounts to, at most, $90,379.59 $54,000 of that $3.5 million.  Thanks to their tax-and-spend conservative officials, South Carolina taxpayers still are on the hook for the rest.  Implementing the law is likely to cost the state another $600,000 – every year.

The real lesson here is, once again, that we still need the Voting Rights Act in general and the preclearance provision in particular.  We hope that lesson is not lost on the Supreme Court when it hears a challenge to the preclearance provision next month.

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