Senators try to resurrect voter ID bill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

JACKSON (AP) — Republicans in the Mississippi Senate are trying to revive a voter identification bill, days after some of their own members killed it in a move that surprised and angered many party loyalists.

Those leading the attempted about-face, including the Senate’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, say they’re not responding to widespread criticism they’ve faced this week from their own political allies, who were distressed that Republicans torpedoed an issue that has topped the GOP’s legislative wish list for a decade.

Senate leaders also say they’re not responding to the taunting they’ve faced from some House Democrats who wanted the voter ID bill to die and were happy to see Republicans do the killing.

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‘‘No, no, no, no,’’ Bryant said Friday when asked if senators are reacting to public pressure, including a drubbing some Republicans took this week on conservative talk radio.

Supporters say making people show a driver’s license or other ID would protect the integrity of elections. Opponents say it could be used to intimidate older black voters who once were subject to Jim Crow laws. They also say there’s little proof that people are masquerading as others to vote.

Some Democrats have shown a rubbing-the-hands-together glee as Republicans turn on each other over the death of voter ID. In a mass e-mail to constituents Friday, Democratic Rep. John Mayo of Clarksdale noted that some House Republicans called in to a talk radio show to criticize the senators who killed the bill.

‘‘The constellations are aligning,’’ Mayo wrote. ‘‘They’re eating their young!!!’’

The ID bill passed the House last month but died Tuesday when it faced a deadline for consideration by the Senate Elections Committee. Republican Sens. Merle Flowers of Southaven, Billy Hewes of Gulfport, Joey Fillingane of Sumrall and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville objected to the provisions to allow ‘‘no excuses’’ early voting 15 days before an election. Under current law, Mississippi voters may vote early by absentee ballot, but only for specific reasons such as knowing that they’ll be out of town on election day.

The four Republicans were joined by Democratic Sen. Bennie Turner of West Point in blocking the committee from considering the bill. That surprised the committee’s chairman, Republican Terry Burton of Newton, who had been working behind the scenes to keep the measure alive. Because there was no vote before Tuesday’s deadline, the bill died.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour has pushed for years to enact a voter ID law, and he supports early voting ‘‘with proper safeguards’’ such as ensuring voting machines are secured each night, Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said Friday.

Reviving the bill now would take a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and the House — and that will be difficult for supporters to get. At least 35 votes are needed in the Senate if all 52 members are present, and at least 82 votes in the House if all 122 are present.

In a procedural move Friday when some senators were either absent or out of the chamber, Hewes failed to get a two-thirds majority that would have allowed immediate debate about reviving the ID bill. He only got 22 of the 26 votes he needed, with 38 senators participating.

Bryant said he didn’t know in advance about plans for some Republican senators to kill the voter ID bill. He sounded ambivalent about the fate of the bill and said he supports Fillingane’s initiative to gather signatures and let voters decide on a constitutional amendment to require government-issued voter ID.

If Fillingane gets enough signatures, the issue would appear on the ballot in either November 2010 or November 2011.

The 2010 ballot will include Mississippi’s four congressional races, and Republicans are trying to win back north Mississippi’s 1st District U.S. House seat won in 2008 by Democrat Travis Childers.

The 2011 ballot will have legislative and statewide races. Bryant is expected to run for governor that year, and Hewes has said he’ll run for lieutenant governor.


The resolution is Senate Concurrent Resolution 627. The bill is House Bill 1533.