S.C. Voter ID Law for AARP Bulletin

    The state of South Carolina painted the South as a politically and socially regressive corner of the country yet again earlier this month when the state filed a lawsuit challenging the Justice Department’s recent blocking of South Carolina’s voter identification law.  The state’s fight to uphold Jim Crow-like voter suppression laws could cost taxpayers nearly $1 million or more before it’s all said and done.  The act comes as a proverbial slap in the face to generations of civil rights activists, and an insult to South Carolina taxpayers and their already overburdened budget. 

    The new law would require a valid government issued photo identification card to be presented in order to cast a ballot in the state.  The law is being pushed by it’s proponents as a deterrent for voter fraud as it’s mainstay.  That said, there have been no prosecutable cases of voter fraud in South Carolina, which would have been prevented by the new law.  Despite the lack of evidence for the law’s effectiveness, the evidence for who the law would disenfranchise is readily available.  Of the nearly 21 million US citizens who lack a government issued photo identification card, those groups affected most are the elderly, minorities, students, and the disabled.  Nearly a quarter of all African Americans across the country lack a valid government-issued id card, and for many, the obstacles are too large to attain one.  Elderly citizens from rural or poor areas are particularly affected as many of these elderly Americans were born to midwives, and never received a legitimate birth certificate.  These certificates, required to attain an identification card, were often misspelled, written simply as ‘baby girl’, or neglected all-together.  The fight to retroactively attain a birth certificate can be difficult and cost in the upwards of thousands of dollars. 

    This fight is where my assignment started, and what led me to Brenda C. Williams, MD., a family practitioner in Sumter, S.C.  A long-time champion for voter registration and education, Williams quickly pieced together the gravity of the situation the new law would create.  Since then she has teamed up with local lawyers, spent countless hours, and thousands of her own dollars to help members of her community effected by the law.  Williams has succeeded in navigating the often convoluted path to attain identification for over 50 individuals, mostly elderly, and nearly all African American.

    While in Sumter, I was charged with deconstructing the statewide law and re-framing it by looking at the reality of those effected in one community.  Through collaboration with AARP’s incomparable visual guru (you know who you are), we decided to show the story through two parts.  The first was a portraits series to give a face and humanize those affected by the law.  The second, which I will share in a separate post, was a visual depiction of the crooked path to attain an identification card, in the hope of showing that it’s more than just a trip to the local DMV. 

    This was one of two feature stories I was charged with illustrating towards the end of last year – both relating to blatantly racist Southern legislation.  The next piece will come out in March, and looks towards the great state of Alabama.  My eyes are open, and I’m dumbfounded by what I see.