(Reuters) – A federal court ruled on Wednesday that South Carolina may not implement a photo ID law for voters until 2013, in the latest setback for a mainly Republican effort to establish identification rules in several states before the November 6 elections.
South Carolina joined Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin as states with voter ID laws that have been blocked or deferred by state or federal judges.
A three-judge panel in U.S. District Court in Washington said unanimously that South Carolina’s law would not discriminate against racial minorities. The U.S. Justice Department had argued the measure ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark of the civil rights movement.
But the judges said there was too little time to put the law into effect this year, and added they might have blocked the law entirely if South Carolina had not pledged to give wide leeway to voters who cannot comply.
Republican governors and state lawmakers across the country pushed many of the laws over the past two years requiring voters to show a photo ID, but the political fight over the rules has grown fiercer as Election Day nears.
Proponents say the laws are needed to deter fraud, although examples of in-person voter impersonation are rare. Democrats argue the laws are intended to depress turnout among groups that support them, such as African-Americans.
At a trial in Washington in August, the state said it would accept at face value any honest excuse from voters without a photo ID and allow them to vote if they sign an affidavit.
Without that assurance, the law “could have discriminatory effects and impose material burdens on African-American voters,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
The South Carolina decision is unlikely to have an impact on the U.S. presidential race, as Republican challenger Mitt Romney is expected to beat Democratic President Barack Obama easily in the conservative state.
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