Wednesday November 25th, 2015 3:27PM

SC voter ID law gets judges' scrutiny

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Recognizing this year's elections are just a few weeks away, a panel of three federal judges questioned on Monday whether South Carolina should wait until 2014 to put its voter identification law into effect.

The judges raised the question as an attorney for South Carolina delivered closing arguments in the trial over whether the state's law discriminates against minorities. Last December, the Justice Department refused to "preclear" - find it complies with the Voting Rights Act - the law so it could go into effect.

A decision in the case is expected in early October.

Voter ID laws have become a point of contention in this year's elections, particularly with the close race between President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Democrats contend the laws could prevent key constituencies from voting, making a difference in tight races.

The laws' opponents see them as a Republican response to 2008's record turnout of African-American and Hispanic voters. Supporters have pitched the laws as tools against voter fraud and to build confidence in the election system.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law in 2008, and Georgia's top court upheld that state's voter ID law. But three-judge federal panel struck down Texas' voter ID law, and state courts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have blocked those states' voter ID laws for now. The Justice Department cleared New Hampshire's voter ID law earlier this year.

South Carolina's law requires voters to show a driver's license or other photo identification issued by the Motor Vehicles Department, a passport, military photo identification or a voter registration card with a photo on it.

Asking questions from the bench, the judges pointed out that if they allow South Carolina to implement the law voters would not have much time before the Nov. 6 elections to get required ID.

"Are you urging us to preclear for 2012?" asked John Bates, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Columbia.

Christopher Bartomolucci, the attorney for South Carolina, said the state wants approval for 2012 as well as future elections. He explained the state's law allows people to claim they were unable to get the required ID because of a "reasonable impediment." People unable to do so because there is not enough time before election day would be able to make that claim, he said.

"Everybody's got a pass for this election," Bartomolucci said.

But that provision also raised questions.

Judges agreed that the provision made South Carolina's law less troublesome and is the only reason the law would work for this year's election.

But they expressed some skepticism about the process for voters without required ID. Those voters will be asked at the polls whether they had a reasonable impediment beyond their control that kept them from getting the ID.

If they answer yes, they can fill out an affidavit stating the reason and have the affidavit notarized. The state has said it will make notaries available at all of its polling places and they will not be allowed to charge fees for the service. They then will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

The law requires voters who cast provisional ballots to bring any of the required ID to the county election office before the vote is certified for their vote to count. But the state said in trial testimony that poll workers would err on the side of voters and count the provisional vote unless the county had grounds to believe false information was given. A state election official also said poll managers would sign affidavits if notaries were not available, even though that would violate the law.

Judges said the South Carolina law had evolved since it was passed, but opponents said it was being fixed. They argued that there is no guarantee votes wouldn't be challenged later by partisan poll watchers and the law would end up in state court.

Garrard Beeney, attorney for civil rights and advocacy groups opposing the law, pointed out to judges Monday that the manual for notaries requires them to request the same ID that the state requires to vote. It also allows them to refuse to notarize a document if the person is drunk, under the influence of drugs, doesn't understand the process and other reasons. Beeney said that created a two-tier voting system.

In addition, those using the "reasonable impediment" provision will vote on provisional ballots and will have to appear at a hearing later if their ballot is challenged. Beeney said the law leaves too much discretion to county boards to decide whether to count the vote and adds the burden of requiring some voters, who are likely to be mostly African American, to get to the hearing to find out if their vote is counted.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit asked the state to respond to that argument. He said the process would create one line that would be disproportionately African American because data showed that African Americans were more likely to lack the required ID and will be more likely to be asked if they had a reasonable impediment to getting it.

"The pool of people being asked, we know, is going to be disproportionately African American," Bates said.

The third judge on the special panel for voting rights cases is Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, also of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was appointed by former President Bill Clinton. Bates and Kavanaugh were appointed by former President George W. Bush.
© Copyright 2015
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Doctors: Blood clot located in Clinton's head
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton developed a blood clot in her head but did not suffer a stroke or neurological damage, her doctors said Monday. They say they are confident that she will make a full recovery.
3:55PM ( 2 years ago )
Illinois Sen. Kirk to return a year after stroke
Nearly a year after a stroke left him barely able to move the left side of his body, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is expected to climb the 45 steps to the Senate's front door this week - a walk that's significant not just for Illinois' junior senator, but also for medical researchers and hundreds of thousands of stroke patients.
3:54PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Couch names administrative team
Ahead of his scheduled swearing in Friday, Hall County Sheriff-elect Gerald Couch named his top administrative team Monday.
6:28PM ( 2 years ago )
Tech beats Southern California in Sun Bowl
Tevin Washington threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score to help Georgia Tech beat Southern California 21-7 on Monday in the Sun Bowl.
5:54PM ( 2 years ago )
Hall Co. officials launch health-based initiative for employees
Hall County officials believe healthy county employees will be of greater service to the county. With that in mind, they have created a health-based fitness initiative to provide free fitness training for county workers.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Ga. ethics legislation could end free tickets
General Assembly approval next year of a proposed ethics reform measure could endanger an important fall tradition for Georgia lawmakers - free football tickets.
6:26PM ( 2 years ago )
Abortion restrictions, tax changes loom in Ga.
Tax breaks for manufacturers and higher unemployment taxes for employers take effect with the new year in Georgia, but it remains to be seen whether the state's newest abortion restrictions will be enforced.
6:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Budget battle sends mixed signals on health care
Confused about the federal budget struggle? So are doctors, hospital administrators and other medical professionals who serve the 100 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
6:20PM ( 2 years ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 4 days ago )
World leaders vow vigorous response to Paris terror spree, but little indication of next steps
ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — World leaders vowed a vigorous response to the Islamic State group's terror spree in Paris as they opened a two-day meeting in Turkey on Sunday, with President Barack Obama call...
2:14PM ( 1 week ago )
Rash of E. coli cases in Pacific Northwest highlights problem of foodborne illnesses
SEATTLE (AP) — As Chipotle prepares to reopen its restaurants in the Pacific Northwest this week after an E. coli outbreak that sickened about 45 people, health experts say foodborne illnesses are mor...
1:40AM ( 2 weeks ago )
Biden says he will not run for president in 2016, finalizing field of Democratic candidates
Vice President Joe Biden will not run for president in 2016, he said Wednesday, ending a months-long flirtation with a third White House campaign and setting him on a glide path toward the end of his decades-long political career.
1:34PM ( 1 month ago )
UN is next stop for Obama after success with Iran, pope; top issues are IS, Syria, Russia
NEW YORK (AP) — Fresh from successes on Iran and with the pope, President Barack Obama still carried heavy burdens into critical meetings this week at the U.N. General Assembly.They include the threat...
3:31PM ( 1 month ago )