Justice Dept. targets SC voter-ID law

It’d be a shame if the Justice Department’s actions in South Carolina get lost in the holiday-weekend shuffle, because this is an important move.

The Obama administration entered the fierce national debate over voting rights, rejecting South Carolina’s new law requiring photo identification at the polls and saying it discriminated against minority voters. […]

In its first decision on the laws, Justice’s Civil Rights Division said South Carolina’s statute is discriminatory because its registered minority voters are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a state-issued photo ID. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal “pre-clearance” on voting changes to ensure that they don’t hurt minorities’ political power.

“The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a letter to South Carolina officials.

South Carolina Republicans, eager to tilt the electoral playing field in their favor, reacted about the way one might expect them to — they’re not pleased — and will turn to the federal courts to undo the DOJ’s intervention.

As the state’s Republican policymakers see it, the imaginary scourge of voter fraud justifies a war on voting, but as Justice’s Civil Rights Division explained, South Carolina “did not include any evidence or instance” of fraud that necessitated these new voter-suppression tactics.

I can only hope this is the first of many such moves. As Hunted noted yesterday, Republican officials have approved similar voter-suppression measures in 11 other states. Each are as odious as they are unnecessary, designed to keep traditional Democratic constituencies from participating in elections.

This is also, by the way, another one of those “parties matter” moments, of which there have been many lately. Remember, in 2005, career staffers in the Justice Department’s Voting Section found that Georgia’s voter-ID law was discriminatory and should be rejected — only to see Bush/Cheney officials override their own experts’ judgment and approve the proposal.

If a McCain or Romney administration were in power right now, we’d very likely see something similar.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.