Miss. lawmakers start work on voter ID proposals

Published 11:27 pm Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mississippi legislators are preparing to dust the cobwebs off the same arguments they’ve used the past decade when debating — and killing — bills that would require voters to show identification at the polls.

Supporters of voter ID, including Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, say it would help reduce the chance of election fraud. Opponents say an ID requirement could be used to intimidate older black voters who were once subject to Jim Crow laws.

This year, some Republicans are putting greater emphasis on specifying that an ID should also include the person’s photo.

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Several House Democrats are proposing a bill that would allow people to show any of several forms of ID. Some forms, such as a driver’s license, would have a photo. Others, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, would not.

The Senate Elections Committee passed a separate bill Wednesday saying each voter would have to show ID at the polls. Among the documents allowed are a driver’s license, a passport, a state government employment ID or a military identification card — all of which would have a photo. The bill moves to the full Senate for debate.

At some point, the two chambers could exchange bills and try to reach a compromise. Or, lawmakers with sharply different ideas could argue and end the session with no agreement, as they’ve been doing since the 1990s.

The House bill would exempt people 65 or older from showing ID — a concession to address concerns that an ID requirement could suppress turnout among older black people. The Senate bill has no such exemption.

Among the supporters of the new House proposal is Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, who says he has opposed voter ID proposals until this year because he didn’t want to revive harsh memories for people who were victims of violence before and during the civil-rights era.

“I know that at some point in our lives, ID is inevitable,” Broomfield said Wednesday. “I’m satisfied that we have a bill now that would work.”

Barbour said during his State of the State address Tuesday night that he opposes exempting older voters from an ID requirement.

Mississippi Republican Party chairman Brad White said the House bill consists of “a group of watered-down election reforms which do nothing to enhance the security or integrity of our election system.”

The bill “proposes 22 categories of valid voter ID, including a paycheck, water bill, or even a credit card, with no requirement for photo ID at the polling place,” White said.

Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, said every type of ID listed in the House bill is accepted as voter identification in at least one other Southeastern state.

“We are introducing a bill we think can pass,” Jones said. “Some members of the Legislature seem content to file bills that have no chance to pass, simply so they can score partisan points.”

The House bill that includes voter ID also would authorize “no-excuses” early voting. Mississippians are now allowed to vote early for certain reasons, such as having plans to be out of town on election day. The bill awaits consideration in the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, and it’s expected to pass the committee because the committee chairman is among the bill’s sponsors.

The bills are Senate Bill 2548 and House Bill 430.