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Voter ID fight must overcome history

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that on the same week the university bearing the state’s name commemorated the wrongdoing of many residents, word came that the federal government issued an ugly reminder to Mississippi that they’ve not yet forgotten.

The U.S. Department of Justice was the primary backer of a young, black James Meredith when he walked onto the University of Mississippi campus 50 years ago, head held high despite a completely riotous circus around him.

The DOJ was correct then; Meredith did have every right to attend Ole Miss.

Tuesday, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that the DOJ had requested from him more information proving that a new voter identification law wouldn’t discriminate.

Most Mississippians — according to the ballot box — think the DOJ was wrong this time.

But right and wrong may not be the primary concern.

It’s more about perception and history.

Only because of Mississippi’s reputation as a state that did not provide equal rights to black residents when the federal government said they must does this matter of voter ID even involve the DOJ.

The state is one of a few required to get federal approval for any changes to election laws and practices.

Grassroots petitions in support of voter ID initially started the process several years ago.

The ID requirement was on the state ballot in November 2011, and it passed easily.

In the spring, the Mississippi Legislature voted to put an amendment to the Mississippi Constitution requiring ID at the polls into law.

Then the quest for DOJ approval began.

Since that time, the justice department has rejected similar laws in other states, and it comes as no shocker that the Mississippi law won’t be approved in time for the November election.

But instead of pouting about it, blaming partisan politics and in general griping, Mississippi supporters of voter ID have only one choice.

Accept it, and begin the task of providing proof that this law will not disenfranchise anyone.

Many think that proof has already been offered, but the DOJ apparently disagrees. And if you take off your political hat, step outside of Mississippi and view the situation as a completely unattached outsider, you can’t blame them.

In 1962, Mississippi fought — hard — to ensure that a black man couldn’t attend their prized white school.

Those of us living here today know that most Mississippians have moved well beyond those days, but we’ve failed time and time again to prove that fact to those outside our state.

We’ll continue to pay the price for that perception forever in some ways, but taking issues one at a time and addressing them with facts, figures and examples, not emotions, is the only way to truly put the past in the past.

Our state needs voter identification at the polls. It reduces fraud in our most important democratic moment.

But we don’t need to leave even one voter at home on Election Day using the excuse that they don’t have an ID.

If it takes going door-by-door to put legal IDs in the hands of all of our residents, that’s what we need to do.

The DOJ didn’t say, no, but they haven’t said yes either.

Look no further than James Meredith himself when you wonder what a Mississippian who knows right from wrong should do in order to hear “yes.”

 

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

 

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