BLUFFTON, S.C. – South Carolina's new voter ID law could affect an unlikely group: older white voters who have higher incomes, are reliably Republican and live in retirement homes and gated golf communities along the state's southern coast, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
There are roughly 217,000 active voters in the state who do not have a driver's license or state ID card, election officials said. Of those, almost a third are 65 or older, and nearly 1,600 of them live in precincts in Beaufort County's Sun City retirement community or affluent neighborhoods nearby, according to AP's analysis.
The law has drawn criticism from Democrats and others who say it will hit the state's black, poor, elderly and disabled voters the hardest because they don't have a photo ID and face many challenges to get one.
Voters will need a state-issued ID or a U.S. passport or military ID to cast a ballot in person when the law takes effect, likely next year. It's unclear how many active voters currently do not have any of the required forms of IDs.
Sun City GOP club president Bill Fearns is confident a lot of residents in his community have IDs that will work because they travel so much or are retired military.
"I think the majority of Sun City residents were kind of in favor of photo ID," Fearns said.
The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the law to see if it complies with the Voting Rights Act. It will not impact local elections Tuesday and is increasingly unlikely to affect the Jan. 21 GOP presidential primary. If it survives legal challenges, it would come in to play for statewide primaries in June and Election Day next year.
South Carolina is among the five states that passed laws this year requiring some form of ID at the polls, while such laws were already on the books in Indiana and Georgia. Voter ID laws are often a popular talking point for presidential candidates and GOP lawmakers, who claim it prevents fraud.
Opponents say there has been no proven fraud and even though the legislation provides for free state ID cards, voters have complained about the hassles they have getting birth certificates and other records the state requires for that photo ID.
AP's analysis also showed an income gap between white and black voters affected by the law. Precincts with the highest number of black voters that could be affected have far more poverty than precincts where white voters are most affected.
Among the 10 precincts with the largest number of white voters without photo ID, just one is an area where 20 percent or more of residents live in poverty. All but two of the 10 precincts with the most black voters without a photo ID are in areas where a fifth or more of their residents live in poverty.
The AP used the most recent data available for income from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey for the analysis.
Leading the list of high-impact white precincts is Columbia's Ward 1, where 405 white voters lack state ID, or a quarter of the Richland County precinct's 1,800 voters. The University of South Carolina anchors the precinct and ballots are cast at a senior center near the sprawling school. The median income there is $27,146.
A little over a mile away, Columbia's Ward 8 has 1,272 black voters without state-issued ID, the most in the state. That precinct is historically black Benedict College, where almost half the voters don't have state-issued ID. The historically black college is surrounded by mostly lower-income neighborhoods and four of ten residents in the area live in poverty, with the median income $19,067.
The picture is much different in Beaufort County at Bluffton 3A. The precinct at Moss Creek is next to marshland and across the street from a golf course. There, all but 17 of the 1,481 voters are white and the median income is $80,613. Just 2 percent live in poverty.
Jay Odom, 70, helped lead the building efforts for Sun City in the 1990s and was surprised by the numbers of voters in the area without state IDs.
"That's a high cotton community," Odom said.
AP writer Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.
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