There are times when the S.C. General Assembly more closely resembles a criminal conspiracy than a legislative body. This is one of those times.
For two years, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has been obsessed with putting a Voter ID law on the books, and in 2011, they passed a law requiring voters in South Carolina to present a state-issued picture ID before casting a ballot. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley was delighted to sign it.
To hear Republicans tell it, the law was necessary to prevent voter fraud. However, they could not present any evidence. In fact, there is no record of any such crime having been committed in this state in decades. Yet that cold, hard fact did not stop the GOPers from ramming through the unnecessary law with undue haste.
The key to understanding the law is to understand that it would disenfranchise nearly 200,000 voters in South Carolina, mostly minorities, the elderly, and college students, three groups that tend to vote heavily for Democrats. This is the opinion of the state American Civil Liberties Union and the state League of Women Voters. It's also the opinion of the U.S. Justice Department, which blocked the law, saying it didn't meet the test under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has vowed to fight the Justice Department to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, and based on this state's history of defending lost causes, you can take the man at his word. So the only questions that remain are whether the case will be resolved in time for the November election and how much this act of futility will cost the taxpayers of South Carolina.
The irony — if you can call it that — is that South Carolina does have a very real problem with its voting system. I am talking about the touchscreen voting machines this state uses and the agency that is supposed to manage and maintain them, the State Elections Commission.
Following the 2010 elections, a group of citizens audited data from voting machines in 14 counties and found a number of problems. Here is a sample, provided by Frank Heindel, one of the citizen auditors:
Colleton County erroneously certified 1,389 more ballots than the number of people who actually voted. Richland County had 1,127 voters stand in line and cast their ballots, but their voting machines, along with their ballots, did not get counted. Orangeburg and Lancaster counties could not produce any electronic ballots or files from their elections.
"Imagine if we had paper ballots and counties could not produce any of them for an audit," Heindel told me in an e-mail. "This is exactly what is happening with our electronic ballots."
The audit also revealed that Charleston County could not produce over 20,000 ballots in their audit, Heindel said. These ballots are required by law to be kept for 22 months.
These problems with the vote collection in South Carolina have been cited in Scientific American magazine and presented at a national computer conference as evidence of what can go wrong with electronic voting machines. After these problems were exposed, the State Elections Commission developed the ability to perform these audits on their own.
To address problems with voting machines, the state Senate introduced and unanimously passed S. 1025, which would require the State Election Commission to do its job properly. That is, it would mandate a post-election audit by the commission, similar to what counties are required to do. The bill would also extend by two days the deadline for vote certification, allowing the SEC the necessary time to audit the voting results. The bill would not require any new equipment or expenditures. It would simply provide much needed transparency to our election process.
So where is S. 1025 now? A House version of the bill is locked up somewhere in the Judiciary Committee, where it is dying a slow death as the days tick down to the end of the legislative session.
"If we are serious about election integrity, we need to focus on where real problems exist today," Heindel wrote. "Based on the audits of independent computer scientists and the State Election Commission, there have been many documented failures with South Carolina's touchscreen voting system."
That the General Assembly would neglect the real and dangerous problems of our voting machines while at the same time addressing phantom fraud with a law that could disenfranchise nearly 200,000 legitimate voters borders on criminal incompetence.
Federal attorneys have ruled that the Voter ID law is illegal. Why can't it take action to make sure that our electoral auditing and certification procedures are transparent when evidence clearly demonstrates they are not?