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Primary voters in Chapin, S.C., last year. They're among people in five states required to put full Social Security numbers on registration forms, which Democrats say is unconstitutional.

Democrats’ newest lawsuit target: South Carolina voter ID rule

Another day, another legal challenge in yet another part of the country alleging the rules make it too hard for people to vote.

This time the place is South Carolina and the issue is an unusual requirement that people registering to vote provide their complete Social Security numbers on their applications.

The state Democratic Party and two national party groups that promote congressional candidates filed the federal lawsuit Monday. If they succeed, the ruling could also upend registration procedures in the run-up to the presidential election in the four other states where a Social Security number is mandated: Tennessee, Virginia, New Mexico and Kentucky.

The suit argues that since people are hesitant to provide their complete Social Security numbers — especially to strangers who might be conducting voter registration drives — the requirement effectively suppresses the number who sign up to vote.

The plaintiffs maintain the rules violates both the First Amendment's rights of speech and political association and the Civil Rights Act, because the requirement creates an unnecessary obstacle to voting.

They have asked a federal judge to order the state Election Commission to implement a new registration system that allows an alternative proof of identity.

Federal law has prohibited requiring people to disclose their Social Security number since 1974, but South Carolina and the other four states are grandfathered in because their requirements were already in place when the Privacy Act was enacted.

People are justifiably fearful of disclosing their Social Security numbers because of the growing problem of identity theft, the suit argues, and the revelation that Russian operatives attempted to hack into elections systems including voter registration databases during the 2016 campaign.

The lawsuit is the latest in a lengthening series around the country by Democratic party-connected groups and progressive advocacy organizations working to tackle a broad array of rules they view as voter suppression efforts.

Issues raised in the suits range from challenging who is listed first on the ballot to asking for reinstatement of a final day of early voting before Election Day. Three suits have been filed just in Michigan, one of the biggest 2020 presidential tossups, challenging an array of election rules including bans on same-day registration at polling places, giving rides to the polls and organizing absentee ballot application drives.

The fate of South Carolina's nine electoral votes is not much in doubt next year, when the state is near certain to be carried by the Republican nominee for the 11th straight election. But Democrats will be struggling to hold one of their two House seats while pushing the uphill bid of their former state chairman, Jaime Harrison, against GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham.

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The House on Friday passed legislation to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would require advance approval of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. Here President Lyndon Johnson shares one of the pens he used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passage of historic voting rights law takes a partisan turn

In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.

The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Big Picture

TV stations fight FCC over political ad disclosure

Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.

With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.

This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.

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1952 Eisenhower Answers America

On TV, political ads are regulated – but online, anything goes

Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

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