JACKSON — Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said yesterday a voter ID study issued last week misrepresents what’s happening in Mississippi.
The study by the Brennan Center for Justice, at the New York University School of Law, estimated 48,000 low-income Mississippians could have trouble obtaining a government-issued photo identification that might eventually be needed to vote.
Hosemann, a Republican, said that number is misleading. He didn’t offer a different figure, but said his office is trying to ensure that anyone needing a photo ID will receive a free one. He said 66 people have contacted his office saying they’ll need an ID.
Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote in an email late Thursday that the group stands by its report.
A Mississippi law requiring people to show photo identification at the polls is awaiting consideration by the U.S. Justice Department. Because of its history of racial discrimination, Mississippi is required to get federal approval for any changes to voting procedures.
Hosemann questioned the Brennan Center study’s method of arriving at an estimate of how many people would have to drive long distances to obtain a photo ID. The study said more than 746,000 Mississippi residents live more than 10 miles from the nearest government office that could issue an ID. However, Hosemann said the study counted only the Department of Public Safety offices that are open more than two days a week and did not count the county offices that also would be able to create a photo ID under the state’s plan. Hosemann said there are 92 such offices in the 82 counties.
The Brennan Center used the inflated number of people who live more than 10 miles from a government office to extrapolate how many people might lack transportation to get to such an office, Hosemann said.
Norden said the Brennan Center noted in the report that the new Mississippi law would require county offices to issue IDs.
“We did not include these offices in our calculation because they are still untested as voting ID issuing offices,” he said. “The law does not detail the hours or process for issuing photo IDs at these offices. Because the Mississippi law is not yet in effect, and given the problems in other states with county offices issuing IDs, we could not assess the extent to which Mississippians would be able to access IDs at these offices.”
He also said the Brennan Center report also claimed that people would have to pay $15 and show a photo ID to get a copy of their own birth certificate as part of the process of getting a photo ID to vote. Hosemann said yesterday any circuit clerk would be able to get free access to the National Association for Public Health Statistics to verify birth certificate information for anyone who applies for a photo ID for voting. Because of that, he said there would be no cost to a voter for the birth certificate information.
Norden said he hoped the state would live up to Hosemann’s promise that “these county offices will provide free photo IDs to all citizens who need them from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., five days a week.”
Hosemann has said the Mississippi voter ID law needs federal approval by September to be used for the Nov. 6 presidential election. He said it could take several weeks to issue IDs to people who need them, and the cards won’t be issued until the law receives federal clearance.