Voter ID


LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: This is a scene more than a few Americans are familiar with: standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the DMV. This one is in Sumter, South Carolina.

Woman in DMV line: Oh, that’s your birth certificate?

SEVERSON: Amanda Wolf has been waiting over 6 months to get the proper papers so she can finally get a photo ID.

AMANDA WOLF: I was adopted in Georgia, and my name was different on my birth certificate, and plus my birth mother and birth father was on the birth certificate, so we had to go to Vital Check, and with Vital Check you have to have a major credit card, which I don’t have.

SEVERSON: And so it went, on and on. Amanda had a student photo ID when she lived in Florida and used it to vote when she moved here, but not anymore—not under the state’s controversial new voter ID law that was fashioned after an Indiana law the Supreme Court upheld in 2008. State Senator Chip Campsen sponsored the South Carolina law.

South Carolina State Senator Chip CampsenSTATE SENATOR CHIP CAMPSEN: And the court has concluded that whatever those hurdles you have to clear to get the ID necessary to vote…

SEVERSON: …is worth it.

CAMPSEN: It is worth it, that is correct.

SEVERSON: It is those hurdles, critics say, that will keep some eligible people who lack the proper ID from voting. The South Carolina law requires a state-issued photo ID, a military ID, or a passport. Amanda finally qualified for a photo ID after she got some free help from a retired judge. Attorneys often charge as much as $1800 for the service.

WOLF: To get a photo ID in the state of South Carolina you have to have your birth certificate, a Social Security card. You have to have your marriage license if you’ve been married. You have to have a divorce decree if you’ve been divorced, and it’s just one thing after another after another, and a lot of the stuff is really difficult to get a hold of.

SEVERSON: Barbara Zia is the co-president of the South Carolina League of Women Voters.

Barbara Zia, co-president of the South Carolina League of Women VotersBARBARA ZIA: The League submitted our comments, along with other organizations to the state, contending that the law was discriminatory and that thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of eligible voters would be disenfranchised.

SEVERSON: State Representative David Mack:

STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID MACK: It’s horrible. It’s designed to suppress the vote of people of color. People of color and poor people, that’s exactly what it’s designed for. There’s no documentation of fraud as relates to voting, and there has been no problem with fraud as it relates to registering people to vote,

SEVERSON: You don’t think people are going to be disenfranchised?



CAMPSEN: No. The state has to assure that the folks that are casting votes at the polls are actually casting votes that are legitimate, and they are actually individuals who they say they are, who they are supposed to be.

ZIA: There are no documented cases of voter fraud by impersonating somebody else to vote for decades in South Carolina. We’ve talked with the state elections commission. They know of none, and they’ve gone on record saying that there is none. So we say it’s a solution in search of a problem.

South Carolina State Representative David MackMACK: If there were cases of fraud they would have been front page news throughout the state of South Carolina and other places, and it’s just not a problem.

SEVERSON: State Senator Campsen insists there have been cases of voter fraud, and there are some that are still under investigation. He says that it would be contrary to human nature if there wasn’t voter fraud.

CAMPSEN: And I know this: Human nature being what it is will steal. I lock my house. My house has never been broken into, but I lock it, and I don’t have to have a thief break into my house and steal something before I’m justified in locking my front door, and so human beings will steal my car, they’ll steal my money, and they’ll steal my vote, too.

SEVERSON: Braden Bunch owns Brick’s Place. He was the head of the Sumter County Republican Party until recently. He thinks requiring photo ID to vote is only common sense.

BRADEN BUNCH: It’s a pragmatic step in order to fix the possibility of irregularity or even just getting rid of these old wives’ tales out there, that all kinds of fraud and deceit is going on. If you have this in place those stories go away.

SEVERSON: What’s happening here is part of a national trend. Altogether 34 states have introduced photo ID legislation. Critics say nationwide it could keep millions from voting. South Carolina’s own study says African Americans are most likely to be impacted. That’s why the Justice Department has put it on hold while it investigates. Barbara Zia says the law will also make it more difficult for the elderly, the disabled, and students whose IDs no longer work to vote. But, she says, it will definitely impede minorities the most.

Waiting in line outside the DMVZIA: And many South Carolinians, especially citizens of color, were born at home and lack birth certificates, and so to obtain those birth certificates is a very costly endeavor and also an administrative nightmare.

SEVERSON: South Carolina is one of several states, mostly in the South, that because of a history of discrimination is required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to get clearances from the Justice Department whenever changes are make to voting laws. Dr. Brenda Williams has registered hundreds to vote. She says the new legislation is reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws that legalized discrimination against African Americans even at polling places until they were abolished by the Voting Rights Act.

DR. BRENDA WILLIAMS: There was a poll tax back during those days, and African Americans had to pay a tax. African Americans were penalized when they went to even register to vote at the courthouse. They were given literacy tests and had to guess how many marbles were in a jar and different things in order to deter and disenfranchise as many people as possible.

SEVERSON: Does this remind you of that?

Dr. Brenda Williams, voting rights activistWILLIAMS: Yes, this is just déjà vu.

DONNA SUGGS: I ain’t never had the opportunity to vote, and I wanted to vote, and I cried because I didn’t have the papers to vote.

SEVERSON: Donna Suggs has been a nurse’s aide all her life.

SUGGS: I had no birth certificate.

SEVERSON: Well, can’t you just go apply and get a birth certificate?

SUGGS: No. I was born by a midwife in Hartsville, South Carolina, and they didn’t report my birth.

SEVERSON: In the South in particular births among African American’s were not sometimes recorded in court houses. They were recorded in family Bibles, and often a midwife did not record them at all. Donna was finally able to get a photo ID after an attorney helped her get her birth certificate free of charge.

(to Donna Suggs): Now that you’ve got your photo ID…

SUGGS: You want to see it?

SEVERSON: Sure, I do want to see it.

SUGGS: Okay.

SEVERSON: So now she is officially Donna Suggs.

REV. JAMES WILLIAMS: Disenfranchising someone, yes, it is a moral issue.

SEVERSON: United Methodist minister James Williams pastors two churches and operates a funeral home. He says he knows that many of those in his congregation and those he buried never had a birth certificate. In his view voting is sacred, and depriving someone of that right is morally wrong.

REV. WILLIAMS: Jim Crow has changed. Jim Crow no longer wears a white sheet. Jim Crow no longer rides in a buggy. Jim Crow now is in a $3,000 suit driving a Mercedes Benz. The tactics to keep oppressed has changed. They no longer beat you over the head with a stick. They beat you over the head with legislation.

BUNCH: It is not harder for a black man to vote than it is for a white man to vote. We all can walk down to the polls together and cast our ballot. It’s that simple.

SEVERSON: If you all have a photo ID…

BUNCH: Well, and the point being is that it is an equal burden on a white man to get an ID than it is on a black man to get an ID.

SEVERSON: That may not be quite accurate, but there is little chance that the South Carolina legislature will amend the voter ID law unless the Justice Department finds that a significant number of South Carolinians will be deprived of the right to vote.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Columbia, South Carolina.

  • Jo

    I’m below the poverty level here in the State of Missouri. I couldn’t wait to drive when I turned 16. I had to take a drivers test to get my drivers liscense. I also needed my drivers license to open up my Bank account. When I turned 21 I needed my drivers license to have my 1st legal drink. 99% of the time they ask me for a photo ID when I use my Debit card. I can’t even get a Library card without my photo ID. You can’t get imto allot of public or Government Buildings without a photo ID. Why aren’t you guys yelling Jim Crow over not being able to get a Library Card, or the State not checking an Adults ID when picking up a child from School or getting them medical atrention. Are we really so petty at this point in our Country that spending $10.00-$15.00 on a State issued ID is going to break the Bank? Please, you can’t even rent a movie or have utilities in your name with out a Photo ID. If you have a Job how do you cash your pay roll check with out a photo ID. I show my photo ID to vote here in Missori & guess what, It’s not a State Law yet; but I have proudly done it since I turned 18, 30 years ago…I still need a photo ID if I buy toilet paper with my debit card. Stop playing the race card, or the Poverty card. I find it my right to vote & every US Citizens right to vote all you need is that photo ID. PLEASE PEOPLE, GET REAL. Every State should have a Photo ID law in order to vote. I have a real hard time believing people can do any kind of business with out a Photo ID in the 21st Century. AGAIN, PLEASE PEOPLE, GET REAL…

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    Since all who travel by plane, drive a car and even use a drive up teller window at a local bank, must show a photo ID, the idea that requiring voters to show one is undemocratic is risible. In fact it may not go far enough with the tens of millions of illegals and legal non-citizens in the US, proof of citizenship and residency, as well as a photo ID should be considered necessary in order to vote. The voter registration and voting scams operated by ACORN and its repackaged groups should send a message to all who support a democratic voting process and yet object to measures insuring that only eligible voters vote. Photo ID would keep the dead from voting in Chicago and in the New Hampshire primary.

  • Ro Ruffin

    Regarding voter ID: If the issue is that some folks do not have photo IDs, let’s put people to work getting them birth certificates and IDs. All eligible American citizens should be able to vote. Also, how did Ms. Suggs get work as a nurse’s aid without ID? Human Resource Departments must always make copies of prospective employees’ Social Security cards and picture IDs, usually in the form of a driver’s license or passport. As a taxpayer, I am happy to see some of my money go to getting people properly certified and identified. The rest is just foolish argument, which appears to be creating the usual waste in terms of time, effort, and cash.

  • Mchael

    Just watched vidio on voter I. D in South Carolinia or any other state. I think all states should have voter I.D. to vote in any election, to make sure you are who you say you are, and prevents someone from voting in several voting locations. If I want to open a bank account or cash a check or even return somthing at a store, I am required to show I.D. In Wisconsin citizens can get a free I.D. card from motor vehicle dept.
    Saying this requirement would disinfranchise some folks is probably true and should do that (Illegal folks in this country Those that were talked about in this video should recieve free help to recieve an I.D. This should apply to all States. If we can send billions of dollars to countries that hate us, we should be able to afford to take care of our own citizens at no cost to them.

  • Serenity

    As an American citizen , I recognize the necessity of voter identification. Any American citizen , without discrimination , are allowed to apply for and recieve a state identification card. There are documents needed for this to show proof of identification, for obvious safety issues. Voting in this country needs to be taken VERY seriously. The people that we elect will govern , “We the people”. We can not afford to be careless with this luxury of freedom. Any state will help any citizen aquire proper documents to recieve state photo identification. It may take some time, according to what information that individual needs or haves….but as an individual , with independence and personal rights, you can choose to do this at anytime. We need law and order within our country to allow an honest home for productive Americans and our children. Individuals are each given equal opportunities. It is the individuals , personal responsibility to access and utilize their rights , as American citizens.

  • Serenity

    This is law and order for the safety of America. American citizens are free to have a state photo identification card. It is necessary for identification to be used and accessed for a number of reasons here in the states. Abroad, a passport would be necessary, and you would need these same documents for a state i.d. to recieve a passport. ALL of these laws are in place for personal safety and rights. Voting is a wonderful right to decide who will be our voice to help govern. Voting should be taken seriously. Proper identification should be necessary for , “we the people” ,”for the people” ,to remain free, and safe , when deciding who we are allowing to govern.

  • Debra

    Everyone has a unique fingerprint. The government should provide some kind of free service that provides a photo ID if you register with a fingerprint.

  • Barney S.

    I take great exception to your broadcast about the need for State Identification. While I feel ID would help speed up voting in person, no American should be required to show ID to vote, which is the greatest right we have imbedded in the Constitution.
    I am a white veteran that lived in the south all of my young life. My father, a white man, was born at home and had no birth certificate nor SSN# until he was 14 years old. For him to enlist in the Army, it took 6 months to gain a birth certificate which included a social worker coming to my Grandmother’s house to ask some very probing questions. My Mema was a very private woman and this was such an invasion of privacy, especially as my father was the youngest of 16 children but only the third to survive into adulthood. Texas was a difficult place to live in those days.
    State ID for voting is just another modern “Jim Crow” shrouded in a easy way to hide segregation. This. This is wrong. It’s wrong but I can see the method for this madness: disenfranchise those who don’t vote your way is a great way to get elected.

  • Charles

    Seems like all our legislators in SC, like to confuse rights with privileges. Having a drivers license, credit card and other ID are privileges while the right to vote is Constitutional. That right cannot be hampered or infringed on in any way.

    Once the justice department finishes with this law then the Supreme Court will take it up if it ever gets that far.

  • Honeybee

    Oh, boy! How surprising to read the above comments which display lack of imagination, empathy and understanding of economic realities, not to mention ignorance of Southern mores. It must surprise the disenfranchised people who are quoted in the video. I’m 76, have lived in Baltimore, Sarasota, Florida, Los Angleles, New York, St. Louis and San Francisco. We’re a big country, not particularly well-educated, with increasing disparities of income and stress about the economy. It’s too easy to fall into a ‘them and us’ mentality, failing to see how others live. We can’t do it with regions of our own country and even less regarding foreigners. When people are worried about their homes and jobs, it’s not surprising they become meaner. Too bad.

  • This is fraudulent propaganda

    This is pathetic… Only idiots could possibly argue that one should not have to probe their Id to vote… No documented cases of voter fraud???!! …. ..[what] world are these idiots living in? There were more votes cast in nevadas Clark county than registered voters! How many dead people have to vote before these … get a clue?

  • Linda

    Voter photo ID is a good, and unfortunately, necessary idea. The hoops government makes folks roll through, however, should be streamlined, just as most government activity should be streamlined. Those hoops are extreme and ridiculous. Far as substituting fingerprints for photo ID, fine, exept the govt should have never been anyone’s sugar daddy, but should be our civil servant. Photo IDs are required for most activities in this country and world. Thats just the way it is and for the most part, a necessary and sound practice. Just streamline, Government, for petes sake, streamline. It’s not discriminatory.

  • Barbara Davis

    I have been greatly enjoying the Moyers and Company programs on PBS, and I was interested in your moving report about the Columbia, SC voter ID controversy. I thought it was comprehensive and fair, in all but one place. When you interviewed Sen. Campson, I was surprised to hear you hand the Senator a euphemistic phrase — effectively putting words in his mouth — which greatly mitigated what he was about to say, and which I believed got him off the hook during an uncomfortable moment for him. The words you offered seemed to be a big relief to him, diminishing the power of your question and providing him a way out.

    You challenged him on the difficulties lower income and older citizens face in getting an ID card. He replied, “The court has concluded that whatever hurdles you have to clear to get the ID necessary to vote…” And you filled in, “Is worth it.” He of course agreed with you and couldn’t have sounded more relieved!

    I object to your feeding him the line, because you kept him from having to get to the pain of the issue. Perhaps he would have had to explain himself more extensively, had you not. He might have said “…is something everyone regardless of circumstance will be required to do.” That has quite a different meaning from “…is worth it.”

    It’s easier for you to put words in someone’s mouth in the moment than it is for me to do so now, so let’s say you got this one.

    Otherwise, I enjoyed your report and will be listening — carefully — in the future.

    Thank you!

  • Linda logan

    I believe every citizen that pays his fair share of taxes to support this country, certainly should vote and have a say in the workings of our government. But we have a gross amount of approximately 40 something % of people in America who have never paid any taxes and still expect this government to support them with any need necessay. While the hard working tax payers are burdened with excessive taxes to run this country and support those that aren’t paying anything. We need a fair tax for all citizens who live and work her in the united states whether legal or illegal. That should help take up some of the burden on those Americans who are and have always been supporting this country. Its no wonder we are in the financial ruin that we are in. If the illegals are so adamant about staying here, then demand that they financially support this country by paying their fair share of taxes as well. This is a horrible injustice to the legal citizens to have to take up the slack for those who don’t pay any taxes…..I pray somehow this wrong will be corrected…God Bless America Again