Cover Story

Ballot boxing

"Ballot boxing" Continued...

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

Another key case: Rhode Island-a state with a Democratic legislature and governor-voted to enact a Voter ID law last year. (The law goes into effect in 2014 and allows for a range of photo IDs-including medical IDs and student IDs issued by universities.) State Rep. Jon Brien sponsored the House version of the bill and noted that key minority legislators actively supported it because of cases of voter fraud in the state.

Doug Chapin, an elections expert at the University of Minnesota, told Governing magazine that Rhode Island's legislation could change perceptions of Voter ID laws: "What was once a predictable partisan divide might be more fluid-and more than a little surprising in the months to come."

For now, Voter ID remains a tense issue in South Carolina. Though South Carolina officials have offered free photo IDs (and free rides to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain them), some voters still find ID a major hurdle: If they don't have a valid birth certificate, they can't get a state-issued ID. And if they don't have a state-issued ID, they usually can't get a birth certificate.

That's a circle Brenda Williams has been traveling for months. The physician in a low-income neighborhood in Sumter, S.C., has been promoting voter registration among her patients for years. Now she's helping some of those same patients obtain IDs to vote.

Some patients have never had birth certificates, especially some elderly citizens delivered at home decades ago by midwives who never registered their births. Others have birth certificates with misspelled names-another problem when trying to obtain a photo ID.

An online service called VitalCheck can help some citizens obtain a birth certificate if they don't have a photo ID. (The fees are at least $50.) But if they don't have a birth certificate at all, they often need an attorney, a prohibitively expensive prospect for poorer voters.

That includes Junior Glover, a 74-year-old Sumter resident with no birth certificate and no photo ID. Glover finished first grade and then worked decades on a farm. Though he doesn't read or write, he's been voting with assistance for years. During a late afternoon visit at his rental home, Glover described what he thought when he heard he might need a photo ID to vote at the polls: "I guess they don't want me to vote."

But Glover's problems go beyond voting. His daughter-in-law, Maryjane Glover, says she's been trying to help him get a photo ID for years: Without an ID, Glover says she can't cash his Social Security check at a bank, and she can't deposit it for him. Glover goes to a local check-cashing business that charges $20, a sizeable chunk of two checks that amount to $521 and $197 each month.

In a housing project near Glover's home, Donna DuBose smiles and flashes a photo ID that took years for her to obtain. DuBose met Williams after seeing a flier about photo IDs and voting. She had been trying to get an ID for years to cash checks, order medicine, and help manage her husband's financial affairs. (Her husband is disabled and doesn't have a birth certificate or photo ID.)

DuBose had a birth certificate, but it listed her name as "Baby Girl Kennedy"-a designation given by a midwife. Until she obtained a birth certificate with a corrected name, she couldn't get an ID. Finally, Williams convinced a local attorney to take her case. Now DuBose is thrilled: "I don't know how I made it through life without this."

South Carolina officials say they're sympathetic to such cases, but point to a key provision in the law: If DOJ approves the law, state officials will issue free photo registration ID cards that require only oral verification of a Social Security number. (Unregistered voters will have to show a utility bill, Social Security check, or other document.) Voters would have to travel to their county registration office, but they wouldn't need a birth certificate.

Still, Williams thinks the law presents too many obstacles to voting. She's convinced the law targets minorities since most of the citizens she helps are black. She also believes the law aims to thwart the president.

With a photo of Obama hanging prominently in the waiting room of her doctor's office, Williams acknowledges that she's an "avid" supporter of the president, but says she tells others to vote their conscience: "I don't care if you vote for Barack Obama or Little Sally Walker. ... Just vote."

Attorney General Wilson resents charges that the law has a racist intent and notes an important breakdown: A DOJ analysis showed that 10 percent of non-white voters in South Carolina don't have a state-issued photo ID. The number of whites without one: 8.4 percent.

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