Federal appeals court delays Miss. voter ID requirement

Published 3:51 pm Monday, December 24, 2007

Mississippi lawmakers are under no immediate mandate to require people to show identification at the polls or to create a new voter registration system.

A federal appeals court on Friday delayed a district judge’s order that Mississippi enact a voter ID law and reregister voters.

In June, U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper ruled that the state should reregister all voters to allow people to declare themselves as Democrats, Republicans or members of another party. Or, Pepper said, people could register as unaffiliated with any party. In July, Pepper amended his June order and said Mississippi must restructure its party primary system by Aug. 31, 2008.

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Ellis Turnage of Cleveland, an attorney for the NAACP, said lawmakers can enact voter ID if they wish, but “they don’t have to do it because a federal judge says so.”

“The Legislature is an elective body, and a judge can’t dictate what they must do,” he said Friday.

Under current law, Mississippians do not declare a party affiliation when they register to vote.

Voter ID has been a hotly debated topic for years in the state Legislature. Supporters say requiring voters to show a driver’s license or other identification would prevent election fraud. Opponents say there has been no evidence of people voting under false identities; they also say some older black voters who lived through the violence of the Jim Crow era could be intimidated by an ID requirement.

All the wrangling comes in a lawsuit the state Democratic Party filed in 2006 seeking to keep nonmembers from voting in its primaries. Some black Democrats have complained that whites sympathetic to Republicans have been voting in the Democratic primaries.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the state and Mississippi’s Democratic and Republican parties had filed individual motions with the 5th Circuit, asking for the stay of Pepper’s order while their appeals of the order are pending.

The court’s ruling has the effect of expediting oral arguments in the case. The 5th Circuit’s arguments schedule ends Jan. 14.

No date for these arguments has been set, and Turnage said it’s unclear when they will take place.

In a ruling Nov. 15, Pepper refused to stay the proceedings until the appeal is heard. He gave no explanation.