WASHINGTON (AP) — A three-judge panel has upheld South Carolina's law requiring voters to show photo identification but has delayed enforcement until next year — adding to the list of states that have had to postpone or drop strict ID or voting laws they wanted in place for the Nov. 6 elections.
The federal panel on Wednesday found that the law was not discriminatory because of the safeguards in it, but would require more time to put those protections against discrimination in place.
The move follows a string of recent voter law decisions. In Pennsylvania, a judge blocked the state from enforcing its voter ID law next month, saying voters would have trouble getting IDs before elections. A federal appeals court forced Ohio to reinstate three early voting days leading up elections. And in Mississippi last week, state officials announced they could not enforce photo ID requirements for this year's elections after the Justice Department asked for more details on the law. Courts also have blocked voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin.
In several states, though, photo ID laws are in effect — such as in Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee.
Such laws became priority issues in mostly Republican legislatures and for governors after the 2008 elections. Opponents have described them as responses to the record turnouts of minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies that helped put Barack Obama, the first African-American president, in the White House.
Debate over the laws intensified in part because of the tight presidential race between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Supporters have pitched these laws as necessary to deter voter fraud, even if very few cases of voter impersonation have been found, and to build public confidence in elections.
South Carolina officials portrayed Wednesday's decision as vindication for the state.
"Would I have loved for it to happen in 2012? Absolutely. But do not lose sight that this was a powerful fight that we really had to scratch and kick to get done," said South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican. She signed the law last December.
The judges said in their unanimous decision there was no discriminatory intent behind the law, ruling that it would not diminish African-Americans' voting rights because people who face a "reasonable impediment" to getting an acceptable photo ID can still vote if they sign an affidavit. Without that provision, the law may have run into problems under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars denying or abridging the right to vote based on race or color, according to the decision.