Hosemann says Miss. shouldn’t wait for court to enact voter ID

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann says Mississippi shouldn’t wait for a court decision before enacting a voter identification law.

The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing an Indiana law that requires photo ID at the polls. Also, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in a Mississippi case that involves voter ID.

Critics of the ID requirement say lawmakers should wait until the legal action is resolved before enacting any laws. Hosemann disagreed on Tuesday, saying lawmakers are capable of discerning “good legislation.”

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“I don’t think we need to go back to where we have to have a federal court order to determine how our elections are run anymore,” said Hosemann, a Republican who took office this month.

Hosemann met with lawmakers on Tuesday to work on the details of an election package that would include a voter ID requirement.

Hosemann’s proposal will be introduced by a lawmaker before Monday’s deadline to submit bills, joining several others already filed that deal with the lightning rod issue of voter ID.

Though it’s been hotly debated for more than a decade at the Capitol, voter ID has gained momentum this year in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Mississippi Democratic Party. The suit was attempt by the party to keep nonmembers from voting in its primary.

U.S. District Judge Allen Pepper ruled last summer that Mississippi should reregister its voters by party or nonparty affiliation. He also ruled that the Legislature enact a voter ID law.

In December, the federal appeals court stayed Pepper’s order, relieving lawmakers of the immediate mandate. The appeals court has scheduled arguments in the case for the week of March 3 in New Orleans.

Hosemann and Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, have said that voter ID would reduce fraud in elections. Burton said he’s specifically concerned about the threat of illegal immigrants voting and problems associated with absentee ballots.

“It’s not something we have to do,” Burton said, referring to the passage of a voter ID bill. “It’s something I’m going to do.”

House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said the federal court ruling means the Legislature doesn’t have to act.

“The court has issued a stay. That’s what it is,” Reynolds said.

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, which was among those who appealed Pepper’s decision, said ID isn’t a remedy for voter fraud. Johnson is worried that lawmakers might support a voter ID bill under the assumption that it’s a court order.

Fred Banks is an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the case. He said it’s not “advisable” for the Legislature to proceed with a voter ID bill without waiting for the guidance that the Supreme Court could offer.

In the Indiana case before the high court, voters must present a photo ID at the polls. Those who don’t have one must fill out a so-called “provisional ballot.” It is not counted until the person reappears within 10 days, bringing proper ID or affirming their identity by signing an affidavit.

In the other states with photo-ID laws, voters can present other forms of ID — such as a Social Security card, a utility bill or a student ID bearing a photograph — or they can sign an affidavit affirming their identity.

Hosemann said he’s proposing that voters present a photo ID, a utility bill or a free ID that would be issued by the secretary of state’s office.

“The goal is not to exclude people from voting. The arguments that this would disenfranchise somebody are just wrong,” Hosemann said. “Mississippi is never going anywhere looking over its shoulder.”