WASHINGTON -- The right to vote is the cornerstone of American democracy. Now some states want to protect it by requiring voters to show picture identification at the polls.
"They will prevent people who are not eligible to vote from voting, and where will that make a difference? Well, it will make a difference in any state where there's a close election," noted Hans von Spakosky, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation.
In 2011, nine states passed new voter ID laws. This year the issue made it before 32 state legislatures. South Carolina passed one of the more stringent laws.
James McLawhorn, Jr., a longtime resident and civil rights activist with the Columbia Urban League, says he can't believe such laws are being passed today.
"It's reminiscent of some of the Jim Crow laws of the past that were designed to restrict people's basic fundamental right to vote," McLawhorn told CBN News.
According to the Voting Rights Act, whether or not certain states can require photo ID at the polls has everything to do with race.
Under the law, 16 states that historically worked to suppress the minority vote must still get permission from the U.S. Justice Department to change their voting requirements.
The department, led by Attorney General Eric Holder, shot down South Carolina's law along with another in Texas. A law passed in Virginia is under review.
South Carolina is fighting the decision.
Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C, told CBN News lawmakers aren't trying to suppress votes.
"I'm a minority," she said. "It's not an attack against minorities."
Instead, she said, they're working to protect elections from corruption.
"We're saying, if you have to have a picture ID to buy Sudafed, you have to have a picture ID to get on a plane, why shouldn't you have to show picture ID to protect the integrity of the voting process?" Haley said.
Supporters say people looking to commit voter fraud need only go to states that don't require ID and cast a ballot for someone who's dead.
According to a recent Pew Center study:
- Roughly 1.8 million dead people are listed on America's voter rolls.
- About 2.7 million are registered to vote in more than one state.
- And 24 million voter registrations nationwide are no longer valid.
"One of the principles of any fair election is making sure the person who casts a vote is legally eligible to do so," Von Spakovsky told CBN News.
"And the fairest way to do that is by making sure that individuals authenticate citizenship when they register to vote and authenticate their identity when they appear at the polling place to vote," he said.
Critics, like McLawhorn, argue many minorities don't have photo IDs or even the supporting documents- like a birth certificate to obtain one.
When the Justice Department compared South Carolina's list of registered voters to its list of people with a government-issued photo ID, it found minority voters were nearly 20 percent more likely not to have an ID compared to white voters.
In 2008, minority voters turned out in record numbers to help elect President Obama.
Now that the 2012 presidential election is just eight months away, McLawhorn says there's a perception in the black community that Republican lawmakers are trying to keep black voters from participating.
"I think it's very interesting that until we had this type of turnout on the part of ordinary citizens and minority people, people were not talking about voter ID, other restrictions. So I think people must ask the question: Why now?" McLawhorn said.
But emotions are likely heating up because of the pending election. Data shows voter ID laws have been a hot topic in state legislatures for years.
Over the past decade, 21 states have passed major new voting requirements.