Lawmakers discuss voter ID, early voting proposals

Published 2:51 pm Friday, December 19, 2008

Lawmakers are using a report from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to decide what election issues will take priority next session.

Hosemann held a series of hearings across the state leading up to the November general election. He shared his findings with the Senate Elections Committee on Wednesday, saying voter identification and early voting were among the main topics at the hearings.

Hosemann has pushed for a state voter ID law. Voters in federal elections comply with an identification provision of the Help America Vote Act that allows forms of identification other than photos.

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The state allows absentee balloting for voters under certain conditions, including being out of the country on election day.

Both ideas drew mixed responses during the Senate meeting. Hosemann said the HAVA law isn’t restrictive enough for state elections. He said utility bills and other paper identification allowed under the federal law aren’t always verifiable by poll workers.

Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, who worked for years for former Secretary of State Eric Clark, said adopting requirements that differ from federal law could cause confusion at the polls.

“I would encourage us to have the same idea in place for everybody,” Blount said. “You get into a real confusing situation if our requirements are more restrictive than the federal.”

A recommendation in the report was to allow a 15-day window for early voting.

Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Mahala Salazar said she’s in favor of early voting because it could reduce the time clerks spending processing absentee ballots, which have increased in number in recent years.

“If it’s done in a controlled environment, it would be a great service for the public,” Salazar said.

Senate Elections Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, said if changes are to be made in how Mississippi handles elections, 2009 is the year to do it because there’s no state or federal elections.