Voter ID law should come with early voting measure

Lawmakers have disentangled two voting issues that should lead to both measures becoming law.

For several years, legislators have tried to pass a bill requiring a photo ID to vote, but Senate efforts to include no-excuses early voting derailed the effort. This year's voter ID bill was headed down the same path, but a House-Senate conference committee has pulled apart the two issues.

Last Tuesday, the House approved a compromise bill requiring voters to show a valid photo ID when they sign in to vote. The Senate is expected to take it up after it approves a budget, and Gov. Nikki Haley's spokesman said she would sign it if it reaches her desk.

That same day in the Senate, a separate bill on early voting was introduced. By Thursday, it had received its three votes in the Senate and was on its way to the House. The bill establishes an 11-day window before Election Day to vote early with no reason given. State law allows voters to cast an absentee ballot up to a month before the election for any one of more than a dozen reasons. That would continue.

Early voting had been attached to the photo ID bill in an effort to win support for the ID requirement from Senate Democrats. But the House wasn't having any of it.

The House's aversion to early voting is hard to understand. If House members are worried about voter fraud, their voter ID requirement should assuage those concerns. No one would be able to vote early without showing the appropriate ID.

This year's voter ID bill would require voters to present a valid driver's license, Department of Motor Vehicles photo identification card, military ID containing a photo issued by the federal government or passport. Under current law, a voter can show a voter registration card or driver's license to vote.

Voters lacking an acceptable form of identification would be allowed to get a DMV photo identification card for free in order to be able to vote, the bill states. According to the election commission, 178,000 South Carolina registered voters do not have a driver's license or photographic identification card.

Voters without a required ID would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot and would have to prove who they are within two days.

If signed into law, the measure will have to be cleared by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act before it can be implemented.

Critics say it will make it harder for some people to vote, including students, the disabled and the poor. That criticism could be offset by the early-voting measure, which would make it easier for many people to vote.

Lawmakers can show that the voter ID bill is not about discouraging voting by supporting a measure that offers greater opportunity to vote.

The House now has its "clean" voter ID bill; it should pass the Senate early voting bill.