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South Carolina GOP Eyes Citizenship Proof For New Voters

The latest effort to police voting in South Carolina comes after the Justice Department rejected the state's new voter ID law.
 
 
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South Carolina is again considering a bill from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to limit access to the ballot box. A nearly identical version of an ALEC voting bill is moving through the state Senate and comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) blocking South Carolina's ALEC-inspired voter ID law as discriminatory against people of color.

State Senator Chip Campsen (R), an ALEC member, introduced SB 304, which is almost a mirror-image of the ALEC Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. The bill requires proof of citizenship to register to vote and has opened up a new round of debate over voting rights.

DOJ Blocked S.C. Voter ID in December

In May 2011, South Carolina was part of a wave of states to pass restrictive voting measures using the ALEC model Voter ID Act as a template (Sen. Campsen also co-sponsored the voter ID bill). According to the ACLU, the law would disenfranchise 180,000 voters in the state, primarily people of color, students, and the elderly.

In December, the DOJ rejected South Carolina's voter ID law, noting that the state's registered population of minority voters was 20 percent more likely than whites to not have the required identification. Based on its history of discriminating against African-American voters, South Carolina is one of several states that under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act needs federal pre-approval for changes to voting qualifications or procedures.

Critics say the voter ID laws are a politically-motivated effort to limit voting by people of color and college students -- populations that typically vote for Democrats. According to a report issued by the NAACP, across the country 25 percent of African Americans (over 6.2 million African-American voters) and 16 percent of Latinos (over 2.96 million Latino voters) do not possess state-issued photo IDs.

Supporters of the laws allege that an ID requirement is necessary to combat voter fraud, despite almost no evidence that it exists. The DOJ acknowledged this reality when it blocked South Carolina's law, writing that the state "did not include any evidence or instance of either in-person voter impersonation or any other type of fraud that is not already addressed by the state's existing voter identification requirement and that arguably could be deterred by requiring voters to present only photo identification at the polls."

ALEC Round Two

With South Carolina's voter ID law blocked, GOP legislators turned to another ALEC model that would limit access to the ballot box. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee South Carolina passed SB 304, which was introduced by Sen. Campsen and is nearly identical to the ALEC Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. See the side-by-side here. The bill now heads to the full Judiciary Committee.

Campsen insists that the bill is not an effort to rehash voter ID. "This bill is about determining someone's citizenship," he said, "to make sure that people who are not U.S. citizens do not vote."

Where the voter ID law required voters to show a passport, military ID, or state-issued ID to vote, SB 304 would require "proof of citizenship" in order to register to vote -- meaning voters must show a passport, military ID, state-issued ID, a birth certificate, or naturalization documents.

With both SB 304 and voter ID placing very similar burdens on voters, they'll have the same functional impact, says Sen. John Scott (D), the only member of the three-person subcommittee to vote against the bill. "They're just another way of prohibiting people from voting," he said.

Little Doubt that ALEC Served as Voter ID Model

SB 304 is almost a mirror-image of the ALEC model, greatly strengthening the inference that ALEC served as the source for the outbreak of voter ID bills that swept the country in 2011.

The 2011 voter ID bills clearly had ALEC DNA but spotting it required dissecting the proposals. In most states, the voter ID bills amended sections in an election statute rather than creating new ones. This meant that provisions from the ALEC model had to be shoehorned into an existing piece of legislation, which involved changing language and reordering the ALEC provisions. Finding the ALEC roots required taking the bill apart and putting it back together.

SB 304, though, creates entirely new sections in South Carolina's elections statutes, and no alteration is necessary. This makes the ALEC influence immediately apparent. See the side-by-side of the ALEC model and SB 304 here.

"Illegals" and "Zombie" Voters

In voting against SB 304 / the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, Sen. Scott said there is no evidence that non-citizens are voting in South Carolina. The state's Department of Motor Vehicles and Election Commission is reportedly looking into whether any non-citizens have voted.

The Commission's examination comes soon after the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles claimed that more than 950 dead people had voted in South Carolina over the past six years. The claim was repeated on Fox News and other outlets as proof of "voter fraud" (and an example of why the blocked voter ID law was necessary), but fell apart after the Election Commission examined the data. Of the names the department was allowed to examine, all were alive and eligible to vote.

Brendan Fischer is a law fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy, publisher of PR Watch.