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Opponents call S.C. voter ID bill too costly for taxpayers

Legislation requiring S.C. voters to show a photo ID at the polls is too costly for taxpayers and too burdensome for residents who lack a driver's license, opponents of the measure said Tuesday.

Advocates for the poor, disabled and minorities said the bill would suppress voter participation and take the state backward in voting rights.

"Voting is a right, not a privilege. Government should be making it easier for voters to exercise their rights," said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Rich or poor, young or old, no matter what your race, if you've met the requirements to vote, the Constitution protects that right. It shouldn't be a partisan issue."

Other groups joining her at the Statehouse included the AARP, League of Women Voters, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities. Its executive director, Gloria Prevost, said people with disabilities rely on others for transportation, and the bill would impede their access to a ballot box.

In January, the GOP-controlled House pushed the measure through on a party-line vote. It comes up for debate in the House today with the Senate's changes.

Republican legislators have pushed the issue since last year. The measure died last year with the House and Senate unable to agree on a compromise.

But the majorities of both chambers consider it a priority for this session. Republicans say it's an issue of voter integrity in an age when a photo ID is required for everything from boarding a plane to buying cold medicine. Democrats complain it would disenfranchise voters and harken back to Jim Crow-era laws meant to keep minorities from voting.

Currently, voters can show their voter registration cards, which lack pictures, or driver's licenses. Under the measure, they must show either driver's licenses, photo IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles, passports, military IDs, or new voter registration cards that include photos.

About 178,000 voters in South Carolina don't have driver's licenses or DMV-issued photo IDs, according to the state Election Commission.

The bill allows eligible voters to get a free photo ID.

But Brenda Williams, a Sumter physician, said producing the documents required to secure the ID can be a long, complicated, costly process for people who lack easy access to them.

She said her nonprofit, The Family Unit, is helping people secure a photo ID in anticipation of the bill becoming law. She told the story of one elderly woman who lacked her birth and marriage certificates.

Amanda Wolf, Williams' secretary, said she's been trying to get a copy of her birth certificate for two weeks. The 26-year-old said she was adopted and didn't know the names of her biological parents.

"How many people will be disillusioned, disenfranchised and turned away?" Williams asked.

Rep. Alan Clemmons, the bill's main sponsor, said he's asked the DMV for clarification on what's required to get a photo ID. He said it shouldn't be that difficult.

A DMV spokeswoman did not immediately return a message Tuesday.

"It's our intent to give every South Carolina citizen the right to vote," said Clemmons, R-Myrtle Beach.

Budget advisors believe the House version would cost $460,000 in one-time money, plus an additional $260,000 yearly. Opponents note the state would also lose out on revenue from the $5 photo ID fee, which goes toward road maintenance.

The state estimate is "purely wishful thinking," said Barbara Zia, president of the state's League of Women Voters. "It will send us, the taxpayers spiraling down a fiscal rabbit hole."

She said other states estimate far higher costs.

About half of the states are considering measures to create or strengthen ID requirements at the polls this year. At least eight states already have strict photo ID requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Estimated costs vary for states to implement the changes. North Carolina, with a population roughly double South Carolina's, estimates a cost of more than $3 million in the first year and about $400,000 each year going forward. Missouri estimates that a proposal in that state could also cost millions. Texas would spend $2 million in the coming year to implement the law there.

The Senate's changes to South Carolina's bill include allowing a two-week window of early voting, in which residents could vote without needing to give an excuse for why they can't show up on Election Day. House leaders are unlikely to agree to the changes, which would again send the bill to a committee of House and Senate members to attempt to hash out a compromise.