WASHINGTON — Lawyers for South Carolina argued in a federal courtroom on Monday that its contested voter ID law would actually affect more white than minority voters and should be approved under the Voting Rights Act.
Howard Christopher Bartolomucci, a former Bush-administration official and partner at Bancroft PLLC who is arguing the case with a group of lawyers including Paul Clement, said during opening arguments that in pure numbers, more white voters than minority voters would be kept from the polls by the law, known as R54. Bartolomucci argued that even though data showed minority voters were less likely to have state-issued ID, the law would affect white and minority voters in “near equal measure.”
“There is no conflict between the right to vote and R54,” Bartolomucci argued before a three-judge panel examining whether South Carolina had met its burden in proving the law wouldn’t hurt minority voting under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Justice Department blocked South Carolina’s voter ID law back in December. Officials with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division found that the state’s very own data demonstrated that non-white voters were 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack state-issued identification.DOJ lawyer Bradley E. Heard said the burden on voters would likely be enough to prevent voters from casting a ballot. He said the “purported reasons” for passing the law — including preventing the rare occurrence of in-person voter fraud — are “unsupported by any evidence” and were potentially “pretexts to mask their actual discriminatory purpose.”
George E. “Chip” Campsen, a Republican lawmaker in South Carolina who helped draft and pass the voter ID law, was the state’s first witness. He said the purpose of the bill was to prevent voter fraud and that constituents had raised concerns after reading news accounts about voter fraud. He testified that the percentage of minorities who lacked a state-issued voter ID was “close” to the racial makeup to the state, though he said he wished they were the same.
Like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Campsen credited coverage of voter registration fraud involving the community organizing group known as ACORN with building public support for voter ID.
Campsen was questioned by Christopher Coates, a former Justice Department official involved in the New Black Panther Party case who has accused DOJ of bias against white people and referred to civil rights organizations as “special interest lobbies for racial and ethnic minorities.”
It was clear from Campsen’s testimony that one of the reasons he saw for passing the law was his belief that students attending college in state shouldn’t be able to voter in South Carolina. Campsen said he heard accounts from poll watchers of “hundreds of students registered at the same address” and accused students of “domicile shopping” by voting in South Carolina over their home state.
“I have concerns about that type of strategic voting, I think you should vote where you live,” Campsen testified.
Unlike voter ID laws in many other states, South Carolina’s legislation does not allow the use of photo identification from state universities or colleges. One of the witnesses in the case is a college student who has an out-of-state license but wants to vote in South Carolina.
DOJ has blocked a voter ID law in Texas, and a decision in that case is expected this week. The federal government did, however, approve Virginia’s voter ID law because it accepts a much wider range of documents and has no strict photo identification requirement.
Late update: As the Associated Press points out, Campsen admitted that none of the examples of voter fraud he mentioned were in-person voting, the type of fraud that would be prevented by voter ID.