Columbia, South Carolina—Today, the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and individual Black college students moved to join a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of South Carolina’s discriminatory voting law.

In the lawsuit, South Carolina v. Holder, South Carolina asks a federal court in Washington, D.C. to approve, under the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, a restrictive government-issued photo identification law, Act R54. This law severely limits the accepted forms of identification that eligible voters can present when voting in-person on Election day.

South Carolina previously asked the United States Department of Justice to approve its photo ID law. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, however, blocked South Carolina from enforcing this law because it will have a discriminatory effect on the State’s minority, eligible voters.

“The DOJ concluded, relying on data provided by South Carolina, that minority registered voters in the state are almost 20 percent more likely to lack state-issued photo ID than white registered voters,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund’s Political Participation Group. “Section 5 safeguards voters from proposed discriminatory laws like Act R54, which threatens to disfranchise many voters of color.”

Nationally, 25% of Black voting age citizens, as compared to only 8% of white voting age citizens, lack a government-issued photo ID. While many causes factor into this disparity, extreme poverty and illiteracy rates and lack of access to transportation and childcare, play significant roles.

“South Carolina claims that its new ‘free’ voter ID card will overcome any problems associated with the lack of government-issued photo IDs among minority voters. Unfortunately, Act R54 does not account for the monetary costs and other impediments many voters will face when seeking to acquire the underlying documents for that ID,” said Kim Keenan, General Counsel of the NAACP. “Once a voter has factored in the cost of the required underlying documents, and the difficulty in getting them, the ‘free’ ID is actually quite costly.” 

Voter ID laws, such as Act R54 passed in South Carolina, disproportionately weaken the voting strength of voters of color and voters of limited means. These laws fundamentally undermine the full and equal participation of all of America’s citizens. In October 2011, political strategists in South Carolina publicly boasted that suppression of the Black voters was “exactly why we need” voter identification laws.

“The experience of young voters of color illustrates the very real burdens to in-person voting created by Act R54,” said Dr. Lonnie Randolph, Jr., President of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP. “South Carolina’s proposed law unnecessarily narrows the list of acceptable identification, which previously permitted voters to use several forms of identification when voting in-person, including student IDs. Instead of erecting barriers to the ballot box, South Carolina should be working to expand the electorate.”

South Carolina’s voter ID law is part of a coordinated and well-funded assault that several states are waging on the voting rights of people of color. LDF recently chronicled this unfortunate era in our nation’s narrative in a report co-authored with the NAACP entitled:  Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America.