With ID law on books, pass early voting bill

After several years of trying, South Carolina lawmakers have their voter ID law.

Now they need to come through with no-excuses early voting, and they should do it before this legislative session ends.

Republican lawmakers in the House can reduce criticism that requiring a photo ID to vote is a way to discourage Democratic-leaning voters by making it easier to cast a ballot before Election Day.

The photo ID law (assuming it passes muster with the U.S. Justice Department) is expected to affect about 178,000 registered voters, many of them elderly, poor or black. It also makes it more difficult for college students without a South Carolina driver's license, military ID or passport to vote here.

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 wouldn't go for it. This year, senators separated the two issues and quickly passed an early voting bill in late April on a 35-to-1 vote. (State Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort voted for it.) The bill sits now in the House Judiciary Committee.

It establishes an eight-day window, starting 11 days 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.

House members needn't worry about voter fraud; no one would be able to vote early without showing the appropriate ID. Their claim that requiring photo IDs protects the integrity of the electoral process should make them comfortable with early voting.

Lawmakers also should make sure funding is in place for the Department of Motor Vehicles to produce the free identification cards to be issued to voters without valid IDs now and to pay for implementing the law.

A DMV spokesman has said photo identification cards cost the department more than the $5 charged now, and the department isn't sure how it will pay to provide the free cards under the new law.

The state Election Commission estimates it will cost the agency $635,000 the first year and $100,000 a year after that.

If lawmakers don't provide adequate funding, they will undermine their stated intention of protecting the electoral process from potential fraud.