One study estimated that the changes could keep more than 5 million voters from the polls. But the laws have proven popular, according to some surveys. Last month, Mississippi voters easily approved an initiative requiring a government-issued photo ID at the polls.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups praised the Justice Department’s decision on South Carolina’s law, with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous saying it “ensures all eligible South Carolinians will have access to the ballot box in 2012 and beyond.”
Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the Justice Department “applied the law faithfully here and really did an excellent job analyzing if the [South Carolina] law would have a discriminatory effect.”
Supporters of the law were equally expansive in their criticism. Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the decision “was purely political and driven by ideology.”
Noting that courts have found laws requiring voter identification in Georgia and Indiana to be nondiscriminatory, “they are going against their own precedents and other court decisions,” von Spakovsky added.
In South Carolina, Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly called requiring voter identification “a common-sense safeguard. . . . The Obama administration has once again decided that Washington knows best.’’
The Justice Department’s decision came after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. signaled a tough stance on the new state laws in a Dec. 13 speech. He expressed concern about the measures, saying, “Are we willing to allow this era — our era — to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?”
At the same time, Holder vowed not to let politics affect his department’s review of the laws. “We’re doing this in a very fair, apolitical way,” he said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. “We don’t want anybody to think that there is a partisan component to anything we are doing.”