Miss. voter ID supporter calls ruling victory

Published 11:48 pm Saturday, June 6, 2009

A chancery judge has declined a Mississippi lawmaker’s request for a judgment on how signatures should be collected to put a voter identification initiative on the statewide ballot.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he still considers the ruling this week from Chancellor Denise Owens a victory.

Fillingane has proposed a state constitutional amendment that would require people to show a driver’s license or other ID before casting a ballot. He had asked Owens to clarify whether the signatures should come from Mississippi’s five former U.S. House districts or the four current ones.

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Owens denied Fillingane’s request for a declaratory judgment.

“Declaratory judgments seek to assess rights and obligations in cases involving an actual controversy,” Owens wrote in her opinion. “At this time, there is no controversy between the parties. The existence of controversy in this matter is merely speculative at this time.”

Fillingane, who received a copy of the ruling on Friday, said “it basically means that our position has been vindicated.”

Fillingane said he, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood had all agreed that the signatures should come from the five districts. He said he sought the judge’s ruling in case someone were to challenge the petition on the grounds that the signatures should have come from the current four districts.

Hosemann, who also supports voter ID, said in a statement on Friday that his office would certify all initiatives based upon the five districts.

Voter ID has been a hot-button issue at the Capitol for more than a decade. Hosemann and other supporters say it can prevent fraud at the polls. Opponents say there’s little evidence of people voting under the names of others. They also believe an ID requirement could diminish turnout among older black voters who still recall the Jim Crow era poll taxes and literacy tests.

Fillingane has 30 days from the June 2 order to file appeal. He said he hasn’t made a decision on his next move. He said he has gathered about 10,000 of the 90,000 signatures he needs to put a voter ID proposal on statewide ballots.