Larrie Butler, a 90-year-old African-American man, was born in Calhoun County, South Carolina, at a time when the South was segregated during Jim Crow. He moved to Maryland after serving in the military and attending college, but returned to South Carolina in 2010. He got a voter-registration card and voted in the state in 2010.
In 2011, South Carolina passed a strict new voter-ID law requiring a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. When Butler went to the DMV to switch his driver’s license from Maryland to South Carolina, he was told he needed a birth certificate to confirm his identity. But Butler was born at home, when there were few black hospitals, and never received a born certificate. When he went to the state Vital Records office to get a birth certificate, they said he needed to produce his Maryland driving records and high-school records from South Carolina. After he returned with that information, he was told he needed his elementary-school records, which Butler couldn’t produce because the school was closed. So instead he found his census record, which was not accepted because his first name in the census, Larry, did not exactly match the name he’d used for his entire life, Larrie. He was told to go to court and legally change his name at 85 years old, in order to obtain the birth certificate required to get a driver’s license in South Carolina and also be able to vote.
“It made me feel terrible,” Butler said.
On May 18, 2011, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed the voter-ID law. “If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote,” Haley said.
After the bill’s signing, Butler spoke at a press conference 10 feet away from where Haley spoke. He held up a plane ticket and Sudafed he’d bought with his Maryland driver’s license, which he was unable to use in South Carolina to vote. Shortly thereafter, the DMV called Butler and said they’d bypass the requirement for a birth certificate, allowing him to get a state driver’s license and vote in future elections.
But there are still hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians facing similar obstacles as Butler. According to state data, 178,000 registered voters, 7 percent of the electorate, lack a DMV-issued photo ID. Minority voters are 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a DMV-issued ID, and there are 63,756 nonwhite registered voters without one.
“Notably, seven counties with the highest percentages of registered voters who lack DMV-issued identification are also among the ten counties in South Carolina that have the highest percentage of voting-age persons who are non-white,” according to the Department of Justice.