With last Tuesday’s election in the books, and few problems reported with the record turnout, voting issues are poised to take center stage when the Legislature convenes Jan. 6.
Then-new Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann presented a package of voter reform legislation in the 2008 session, parts of which would have mandated voters to show identification before voting. The bill cleared the Senate, but failed in the House.
Hosemann plans to push the same package in the upcoming session.
In making the case for voter ID last session, Hosemann cited a study he relied heavily upon in his run for office in fall 2007, when he made the issue a major campaign platform.
Polling data collected by Hosemann’s campaign showed that 97 percent of those surveyed who were over 65 had a driver’s license or some alternate form of ID.
Requiring voters to verify their identity is a common sense measure, Hosemann said, and is not geared for intimidation and disenfranchisement.
“I expect it to pass this year,” he said. “When I tell my mom that I’m not going to make her show her ID (to vote), she gets mad about it.”
To help sell lawmakers who voted against it last year, voter ID would be one part of a overall reform package that would update antiquated voter rolls and establish early voting policies. According to Hosemann, that approach would gain more traction than each party splitting on either side of the issue, which is what killed the measure last spring. Voter ID would have to be included in a reform package, because voter roll-purging and allowances for early voting would become moot without it.
“We’d be building a house on sand,” Hosemann said.
At least one lawmaker who has supported early voting is Rep. Credell Calhoun, D-Jackson. “I’ve been for early voting for a long time,” Calhoun said. “(Some other Black Caucus members) are not quite as excited about it. Some Democrats think Republicans would have an advantage and Republicans think we would have an advantage.”
If the state experiences a rash of voter fraud, said Calhoun, then “I think that you could easily get voter ID passed. I don’t want to see voter ID yet. It’s not necessary.”
That elderly people, particularly minorities, would be disenfranchised has been the crux of the argument put forth by voter ID opponents. Calhoun believes it will be just another barrier in getting people to vote.
“I have a hard time getting (voters in my district) to the polls already,” he said.
Opposition to voter ID from opponents who have labeled it as dangerous is beginning to fade, Hosemann says, and lawmakers who have voted it against it may be persuaded, if not this year, then eventually.
“(Legislators) have to go back for re-election (in three years),” Hosemann said. “Those individuals who have opposed that for an entire four-year period are going to face some consequences from the voters. It’s a hot-button issue, and there are people who may not be back to cast that vote (against voter ID) again. People 20 and 30 years old just think it’s crazy (not having to show your ID to vote).”
Voter ID is one of those issues that has historical baggage that dates back to the Civil Rights era, said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State’s Stennis Institute of Government.
“Eighty percent of (the opposition) is symbolic,” he said.
Going through his late father’s belongings a few years ago, Wiseman came across a poll tax card from 1962. Back then, voters had to show the card to prove they had paid a poll tax, which was used as a means of keeping African Americans from voting.
“Anything like that that is a hurdle you have to get over to vote that harkens back to the bad old days is resisted for symbolic reasons, if nothing else,” Wiseman said. “I’ve heard various leaders in the House, particularly white ones, say they didn’t see voter ID as a big deal, but they respect the opinion of those who had suffered the indignity of (things like poll taxes).”
People who advocated for and eventually won passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that outlawed discriminatory voting practices view voter ID as a barrier to voting, Wiseman said. As that generation gives way to those who have had only to register to be able to vote, “it would cease to be as salient an issue,” he said. “That fear has somewhat abated.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .