Miss. Senate approves voter identification bill

Published 7:29 pm Thursday, February 8, 2007

Voters in Mississippi would have to show some sort of identification to cast a ballot in state elections, under a controversial bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

The bill, which passed 30-15, now goes to the House, where it will likely be met with opposition.

Lawmakers in this state have considered and killed similar proposals over the past several years.

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The proposal says voters would have to present a “current and valid photo identification, a government document that shows the name and address of the person, or a Social Security card that shows the name of the person.”

Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, anticipated opposition and said the bill is “to make sure people are not tampering with the process.”

“That’s what this is all about. To protect the integrity of the process,” Burton said. “Not to hurt or hamper or discriminate or have any ill will or bad feelings or anything else toward any person whatsoever. It’s about you casting your vote and your vote only.”

Others are not convinced. Some lawmakers say the measure would discourage older black voters from casting ballots because of the intimidation they faced in Mississippi’s turbulent past.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said many older black Mississippians were subjected to poll taxes, threats and violence and would again be scared away from the polls.

“Do you not understand what we have gone through to get the right to vote — African Americans?” Jordan asked. “This is disgraceful. This is actually disgraceful to do this.”

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, argued that people need identification for many things these days, like to cash checks or secure mortgages, most people already have identification anyway.

“There is a need for some type of identification to make sure our elections are being done properly,” Fillingane said.

Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, said showing identification would only frighten some blacks and slow down the election process.

“Over the past years, there were isolated cases of people that reported they were unable to vote in the elections because someone had already voted in their names,” Walls said. “I believe there is not enough evidence of voter fraud to warrant changes in our voting system.”

Similar measures have cleared the Senate before, but were shot down in the House.

Burton argued that people have to show identification to register to vote, so proving one’s identity should not be intimidating, either.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they were intimidated to register to vote,” Burton said.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour issued a statement supporting the bill.

“I want to thank members of the Mississippi Senate for passing a strong voter ID bill to help ensure fair and honest elections in Mississippi,” Barbour said. “The Senate’s action is a strong statement that a comprehensive voter ID law is necessary to combat fraud in our electoral process, and I encourage the Mississippi House to take up and pass the bill very soon.”

The bill is Senate Bill 2617.