Senate passes weakened version of Hosemann’s election package

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A weakened version of a wide-ranging elections bill passed the Senate on Tuesday after two hours of debate.

The legislation, which is supported by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, was designed to make sweeping changes in the state’s election process. Lawmakers revised to the bill by stripping out provisions that would have purged thousands of voters’ names from the rolls and allowed early voting in elections.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, offered the amendment removing the provision requiring all voters to reregister when they cast ballots in upcoming elections.

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Blount, a freshman lawmaker, worked 12 years in the secretary of state’s office under Hosemann’s predecessor, Democrat Eric Clark. Blount said Tuesday that a massive re-registration would cause people who didn’t vote in one election to be dropped from the rolls. He said that would violate federal law and would be unfair to voters.

Blount said he’s willing to work with Hosemann’s office to address the problem of outdated voter rolls.

Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, introduced the amendment that removed the broad use of early voting from the bill. The provision would have allowed voters to cast ballots as early as 15 days before an election.

Under current law, Mississippians have limited reasons for being able to cast an absentee ballot before an election. For example, a voter who will be out of town on election day can vote early.

Flowers said a broader use of early voting would open the door to fraud. He also said it would put a burden on circuit clerks.

“I searched far and wide for someone in favor of early voting. I haven’t found them,” Flowers said.

The bill, which had bipartisan support, passed on a vote of 27-20.

Hosemann watched the debate in the chamber. He declined to comment after the vote.

Hosemann, a Republican who took office in January, has said that he’s pushing the proposal to reduce instances of voter fraud. He said 24 counties in Mississippi have more registered voters than they have people of voting-age population.

The bill moves to the House.

The bill is Senate Bill 2910.