Barring a lawsuit, the June 3 primaries in Mississippi will mark the first time the state has required voter identification in a statewide election, putting into practice a policy Mississippi voters approved by 62 percent of the vote back in 2012.
Hosemann believes that the state has avoided a lawsuit on the implementation of voter ID because his office was proactive in working with the U.S. Justice Department guidance in devising a voter ID process that respected the Constitution and was as fair and accessible as possible.
That’s a remarkably simply solution. Hosemann points out the obvious but important fact that voter ID has long been a contentious political issue in Mississippi. The issue dominated political debate in the state for more than 20 years with Republicans arguing for it as a tool to offset voter fraud and Democrats arguing against it as a form of voter intimidation in a state with a sorry voting rights history.
The Obama administration opposes voter ID laws in the South. Mississippi is one of nine states declared “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “pre-clearance” by the Justice Department.
States included in the “covered jurisdiction” by the Voting Rights Act are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. There are also counties in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota as well as some cities in Michigan and New Hampshire that are included.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has in the past talked tough about suing Southern states over voter ID laws even after the Supreme Court ruled that Section 5 must be a national approach rather than a narrowly drawn safeguard. The court invited Congress to draw a new formula.
Essentially, the court said requiring Justice Department preclearance for election law changes for only the covered jurisdiction states represented an unfair application of the law that ignored racial progress in those states over the last nearly 50 years.
Hence, Hosemann’s efforts on voter ID in Mississippi proceeded, albeit with an eye toward satisfying U.S. Justice Department concerns prior to the launch of new lawsuits. The voter ID program Hosemann has shepherded makes good sense.
Acceptable voter identification instruments under Mississippi law include: A driver's license, a photo ID card issued by a branch, department, or entity of the state of Mississippi, a U.S. passport, a government employee ID card, a firearms license, a student photo ID issued by an accredited Mississippi university, college, or community/junior college, a U.S. military ID, a tribal photo ID, any other photo ID issued by any branch, department, agency or entity of the U.S. government or any state government, or a Mississippi Voter Identification Card.
The law provides that an individual without ID can cast an affidavit ballot which will be counted if the individual returns to the appropriate circuit clerk within five days after the election and shows government-issued photo ID.
Voters with a religious objection to being photographed may vote an affidavit ballot, which will be counted if the voter returns to the appropriate circuit clerk within five days after the election and executes an affidavit that the religious exemption applies.
Here’s hoping Mississippi’s trial run with voter ID is a non-event.
NOTE: There was an error of fact in my April 23 column. I wrote that Sonny Montgomery defeated Prentiss Walker in 1966 for Congress. In fact, Montgomery won a race for Walker’s open seat over Republican Mack McAllister after Walker unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland in 1966.
(Daily Corinthian columnist Sid Salter is syndicated across the state. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or email@example.com.)