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Judges Question Whether South Carolina's Voter ID Law Is Ready For Primetime

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"Does the state in fact intend to put (the law) into effect for the November 2012 election?" he asked.

Bates also wanted to know what the state defined as a "reasonable impediment." The law would allow voters without a valid form of photo identification to cast a ballot anyway if they sign an affidavit swearing that a "reasonable impediment" kept them from obtaining photo ID. The problem: State officials have made widely varying claims about what the term actually means.

As Pam Fessler reported for NPR this week, South Carolina election director Marci Andino testified that under her interpretation of the law anyone who didn't have transportation or enough time to obtain an ID could sign such an affidavit and be allowed to vote.

Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wanted to know whether South Carolina would allow "reasonable impediment" to apply to anything a voter thought was reasonable. He said he was troubled the state didn't have any documentation explaining what a "reasonable impediment" could be.

Bates said the state needed to clarify who had authority to interpret exactly what the term meant, while Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said a very specific breakdown of the types of reasonable impediments "would be helpful."

"I don't want to find out that I'm dealing with a new case three weeks from now," Bates said, referring to the lack of specifics about what constitutes a "reasonable impediment."

While South Carolina has argued their law isn't racially discriminatory, civil rights lawyers argue it will have that effect and was passed with discriminatory intent. The civil rights lawyers point to an email in which the author of the law responded positively to an email which compared poor blacks to "bees going after a watermelon."

State Attorney General Alan Wilson, on the other hand, argued that various other forms of photo identification were excluded from the law because they don't prove residency, even though the law specifically states the identification requirement has nothing to do with proving residency.