Miss. voter ID bill signed, awaits feds’ scrutiny

Published 11:45 pm Thursday, May 17, 2012

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Thursday signed a bill requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, but it’s unclear whether it will become law.
Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the state is required to get federal approval for any change in election laws or procedures. The U.S. Justice Department in recent months has rejected voter ID laws from Texas and South Carolina.
The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is asking the department to reject Mississippi’s proposed law, saying it could disproportionately create hardships for poor, elderly or minority voters who might be less likely to have a photo ID.
Legislative debates about voter ID have been sharply divided along racial lines for years. No black officials attended the bill signing ceremony in the governor’s Capitol office. Bryant was surrounded by several fellow Republicans and some tea party members.
“The legislation makes it easy to obtain a photo ID and put it in the hands of all voters,” Bryant said. “Our hope is to increase participation in the voting process. There is no one within this building that I have ever encountered that says, ‘I hope we can reduce the number of voters that are going to the polls.’ Just quite the opposite. We try and believe that it is our job to encourage this process but also bring about integrity.”
Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said Democrats who supported voter ID were invited to stand behind the governor during the bill signing.
Supporters of voter ID say it prevents people from masquerading as others to cast a ballot. Opponents say there’s little evidence of that happening.
Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, said that for decades, states imposed literacy tests, poll taxes and other methods to suppress African-Americans’ right to vote. Although such methods are now banned, Simmons said a voter ID mandate could have a similar impact.
“It would have a chilling effect on Mississippi’s most vulnerable populations, regarding their right to vote,” Simmons said Thursday from his law office.
In last November’s general election, 62 percent of Mississippi voters approved a voter ID constitutional amendment. The bill Bryant signed Thursday is designed to put the ID mandate into law. It would require each voter to show a driver’s license, passport or other photo identification before casting a ballot.
Mississippi’s top elections official, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said Thursday that he doesn’t expect the new law to be in place for the Nov. 6 presidential and congressional elections.
Hosemann said the voter ID law would need federal approval by July to give his staff time to implement the law’s requirements by the time early voting for military members begins in September.
The proposed law says Mississippi would provide free ID to any voter who needs one, but legislators this session did not set aside money to produce the cards. Hosemann said the money can be budgeted later, if the law receives federal approval.
Attorney General Jim Hood, the only Democrat in statewide elected office, submitted the voter ID constitutional amendment to the Justice Department in January. The department said it needed to see bill that accompanies the amendment.
Hosemann has said he’s skeptical that Mississippi will get fair consideration at the Justice Department. He said he might try an alternate route by asking a panel of federal judges in Washington to consider Mississippi’s proposed law.
The bill is House Bill 921.

Email newsletter signup