The U.S. Department of Justice has rejected South Carolina's voter ID law, which was inspired by an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model, as discriminatory against people of color.
Fourteen states passed restrictive voting measures over the past year, many of them (including South Carolina) using the ALEC model Voter ID Act as a template. According to a report issued this month by the NAACP, 25% of African Americans (over 6.2 million African-American voters) and 16% of Latinos (over 2.96 million Latino voters) do not possess state-issued photo IDs, and as many as 5 million Americans, many of them people of color, would be ineligible to vote under the new restrictions.
Under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, several states with a history of discrimination require federal pre-approval for changes to "any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting." South Carolina was the first state to have its voter laws tested. The U.S. Justice Department said the law will discriminate against voters of color but did not say whether the discrimination was intentional.
Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated his Justice Department would uphold the Voting Rights Act. In a December 13 speech outside the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, which honors the president who helped make the landmark voting rights legislation into law, Holder said, "are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation's proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended?"
ALEC directed its focus on "Voter ID" shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years in the 2008 presidential election, particularly among university students and African-Americans. Shortly after the election of the nation's first black president, "Preventing Election Fraud" was the cover story on the Inside ALEC magazine, and ALEC corporations and politicians voted in 2009 for "model" Voter ID legislation. According to the NAACP report, the 2010 census showed that communities of color -- and eligible voters within those communities -- were growing rapidly, at a faster pace than the white population.
With new majorities of ALEC politicians in many state legislatures and ALEC alums as governor following the 2010 elections, restrictive voter bills modeled on the ALEC template were introduced in a majority of states across the country in 2011. The bills became law in fourteen states and were vetoed by Democratic governors in four others.
Wisconsin was one state that passed an ALEC-inspired voter ID law, but is not subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act. Still, the Wisconsin law will have an even greater impact on people of color than the national average. According to a 2005 study, 55 percent of all African American men and 49 percent of African American women do not have state-issued ID cards, nor do 46 percent of Hispanic men and 59 percent of Hispanic women. Those numbers are even greater for younger African-Americans, with 78 percent of males and 66 percent of females between ages 18-24 not having an ID.