S.C. lawmaker admits positive response to racist email on voter ID bill

 

McClatchy Newspapers

A South Carolina lawmaker and the author of a voter ID law considered discriminatory by the Justice Department testified in federal court Tuesday that, while crafting the bill, he had responded favorably to a racist email in support of the measure.

State Rep. Alan Clemmons acknowledged his reaction in the second day of arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over whether the law violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Justice Department blocked the 2011 voter ID law, which would force South Carolina residents to show one of five forms of photo identification in order to vote: a driver's license, a DMV-issued photo ID, a passport, military ID, or a voter registration card with photo issued by the local elections office. The Voting Rights Act requires federal review of all election laws passed in states with a history of discriminating against black voters.

The Justice Department has asserted that South Carolina’s law would disproportionately burden African-Americans, who it says are less likely than whites to have or be able to get the types of ID the law requires. In response, South Carolina is suing Attorney General Eric Holder. Lawyers for groups including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined the trial to rebut South Carolina’s claims that its law is colorblind.

Garrard Beeney, who represented the civil rights groups, presented emails sent to and from Clemmons’ personal account between 2009 and 2011, when he was working on the law. One, from a man named Ed Koziol, used racially charged rhetoric to denounce the idea that poor, black voters might lack transportation or other resources necessary to obtain photo ID. If the legislature offered a reward for identification cards, “it would be like a swarm of bees going after a watermelon,” Koziol wrote.

Beeney asked Clemmons how he had replied to this email. Clemmons hesitated a moment before answering, “It was a poorly considered response when I said, ‘Amen, Ed, thank you for your support.’”

Beeney also contended that Clemmons, a Republican, wrote the law to suppress Democratic votes. Blacks in South Carolina typically vote Democratic. Beeney asked Clemmons whether he remembered distributing packets of peanuts with cards that read “Stop Obama’s nutty agenda and support voter ID.”

Clemmons said he did not, though Beeney said he had testified in June that he did.

South Carolina’s lawyers sought to prove that the ID law represented a compromise between Democrats and Republicans.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who was the top-ranked member of the state Senate until earlier this year, testified that the law emerged after a series of conference committees and negotiations spanning multiple legislative sessions. When he had the opportunity to appoint senators to the conference committees that worked on the bill, he picked both Democrats and Republicans, he said.

“If you want something, to get it you need to find out what other people want and then ride together in the same car,” said McConnell, a Republican.

But under questioning from Beeney, McConnell said he believed the law would have been more in compliance with the Voting Rights Act if it had included provisions to make voting easier, such as an early voting period. The Senate passed a voter ID bill that included such provisions, but Clemmons and other members of the House opposed it and would not compromise, McConnell said.

McConnell also testified that he agreed to remove the early voting provision from the bill because Clemmons told him the House would pass a separate early voting bill. But the House never sent the Senate an early voting bill, and when the Senate sent one to the House, it died in committee.

Testimony from Marci Andino, South Carolina’s elections director, suggested that even if South Carolina’s law goes into effect by the Nov. 6 general election, it may have a limited impact.

Voters may cast a ballot without a photo ID if they sign an affidavit attesting that they had a reasonable impediment to obtaining the ID. “Reasonable” is at the voter’s discretion, Andino said. If 100,000 people come to the polls in November with affidavits and say they did not have time to obtain a photo ID, their votes will be counted.

“Err on the side of the voter,” Andino said. “If there’s any doubt, then the voter should be permitted to vote.”

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Solid US job gains expected for 6th straight month

    With a host of reports this week pointing to a healthier U.S. economy, analysts expect Friday's monthly jobs report to send a similar message.

  • Senate confirms US ambassador to Russia

    The Senate has confirmed President Barack Obama's nomination for U.S. ambassador to Russia, but not before a Republican senator blocked the appointment and several others.

  • FAA places new restrictions on flights over Iraq

    The Federal Aviation Administration is restricting U.S. airlines from flying at or below 30,000 feet over Iraq because of what it calls "the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict" there.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category