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Hosemann: New voter ID law is constitutional

JACKSON — Mississippi officials are confident the state’s new voter ID constitutional amendment will pass muster despite the Justice Department’s rejection of a similar South Carolina law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

“The Supreme Court has ruled that voter ID is constitutional and we believe that Mississippi’s plan for implementing voter ID will be constitutional as well,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican.

Under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act, both states must seek preclearance from federal officials before making changes to election procedures because of their history of discrimination against black voters.

Sixty-two percent of Mississippi voters approved the voter ID initiative on Nov. 8.

Hosemann has said he hopes to have voter ID working before the 2012 presidential election.

The Mississippi NAACP and the ACLU have said they will ask the Justice Department to reject it.

Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said the Justice Department reached the right conclusion for South Carolina’s law and the same results should be expected for Mississippi.

“We will continue to object on the grounds that voter ID is a vote suppression method that will prevent disadvantaged senior citizens and students who are African-American from exercising their right to vote,” Johnson said.

Johnson said supporters of the initiative have never provided any example of how voter ID would correct any instance of voter fraud.

If the federal government rejects the law, the state can file in federal court to seek approval.

State Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the state should take that route if Justice Department objects to Mississippi’s law. Fillingane sponsored the petition that put the amendment on the ballot.

Mississippi is among five states that passed laws this year requiring some form of ID at the polls, while such laws were already on the books in Indiana and Georgia, whose law received approval from President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. Indiana’s law, passed in 2005, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.

Fillingane said the Mississippi initiative was “basically a copy of the Indiana statute.”

“The reason we modeled after Indiana was why re-invent the wheel when here was something the Supreme Court has already ruled on. We feel pretty confident about the constitutionality of our language,” Fillingane said.

The Justice Department said South Carolina’s law makes it harder for minorities to cast ballots. It was the first voter ID law to be refused by the federal agency in nearly 20 years.

The Obama administration said South Carolina’s law didn’t meet the burden under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Tens of thousands of minorities in South Carolina might not be able to cast ballots under South Carolina’s law because they don’t have the right photo ID, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said.

“Apparently the Obama administration has a different take” on voter ID, Fillingane said. “If the Justice Department doesn’t approve voter ID, which Mississippi voters have overwhelmingly embraced and the Supreme Court has already approved, there is a remedy in the courts.”

The Mississippi initiative calls for voters to show government-issued photo identification before they are allowed to vote, but lays out no details. The Legislature, which convenes Jan. 3, would have to pass an enabling law.

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