Voter ID dead, but could be revived in Miss. Legislature

Published 4:19 pm Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Voter ID is dead at this point in the 2008 legislative session, but some lawmakers are hoping to revive the issue as part of a comprehensive elections package.

It’s unclear whether that will happen as the session moves into its final month.

Tuesday was the deadline for House committees to consider bills that started in the Senate, and for Senate committees to consider bills that came from the House.

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The House Elections Committee killed a voter ID bill that passed the Senate on a 34-18 vote last month.

New bills can be filed after the deadlines, but only if two-thirds of the House and Senate agree.

The Senate debated a resolution Tuesday that would’ve allowed a new bill to be filed for voter ID and other election issues. But the resolution fell two votes short.

Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, said he might try again later.

Mississippi lawmakers have debated voter ID for more than a decade, and the arguments are always the same.

Supporters say voters should show a driver’s license or other ID to ensure the integrity of the election system.

Opponents say there’s no proof that anyone is trying to pass themselves off as anyone else to cast a ballot. And, besides, Mississippi has a troubled history of violence and intimidation being used against black people for trying to exercise their constitutional right.

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said he is tired of wasting time on voter ID debates when he believes there is no proof that people are cheating in elections by misrepresenting who they are. Jordan, 73, also said the issue is emotional for him because he has experienced discrimination because he is black.

“It affects my people more than it does those who have never gone through a struggle,” Jordan said Tuesday. “It is being pushed by people, or the great-great-grandsons of people who started the poll tax.”

Along with ID, the package Burton wants to file would allow a few counties to try a system of early voting. It also would ease the process for most convicted felons to regain their voting rights after they have served their time.

The Mississippi Constitution lists 10 felonies for which a convict automatically loses voting rights. Among them are murder, rape and embezzlement. In 2004, Attorney General Jim Hood issued an opinion adding 11 more felonies to the list for which someone can be disenfranchised. That list included felony bad check writing, timber larceny and carjacking.

Under current law, a person who is found guilty and serves his sentence may regain voting rights only by going to the Legislature and getting approval. The elections package that some lawmakers are attempting to file would allow most felons — except those convicted of rape or murder — to automatically get their voting rights back two years after completing a sentence if they keep a clean record.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, is one of the House members who worked behind the scenes late Monday with Burton, other lawmakers and staff members for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Bailey said he is willing to push for the comprehensive election package, but the Senate has to act first.

“I want to make sure the voters are protected on every level so no one gets disenfranchised,” Bailey said.

The bill is Senate Bill 2468. The resolution is Senate Concurrent Resolution 624.