Hosemann asks for input from opponents of Voter ID

JACKSON — Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he wants to include opponents of voter identification as state officials work to implement Initiative 27, the state constitutional amendment passed last week calling for Mississippians to present photo identification before voting.

“My goals would not be to have people on the sidelines of the field waiting for someone to fumble the ball,” he said. “Help me implement it.”

Getting opponents’ help could aid the state when it seeks Justice Department approval. Under the federal 1965 Voting Rights Act, Mississippi must seek preclearance from federal officials before it makes changes to election procedures because of its history of discrimination against black voters.

Attorney General Jim Hood will make the filing with help from Hosemann and the Department of Public Safety. Hosemann said he hopes to have voter ID working before the 2012 presidential election.

Opponents say they’re willing to talk, but they’re also planning to seek federal rejection of the amendment, which 62 percent of voters favored Nov. 8. It calls for voters to show government-issued photo identification before they are allowed to vote, but lays out no details. How voter ID will actually work could prove crucial to federal approval.

“We expect to be involved in opposing the law,” said Nancy Abudu, a lawyer with the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Her arm of the ACLU has filed detailed letters questioning both the basis and the plans for implementing voter ID in South Carolina and Texas. The Justice Department is supposed to approve or reject both in December. Those are the first states that have sought preclearance for voter ID since President Barack Obama took office.

If the federal government rejects a state’s submission, the state can file in federal court in Washington to seek approval.

The amendment takes effect 30 days after Hosemann certifies the election, which would put the date sometime in December. But it’s unlikely that the state will be ready to seek preclearance on the day the measure goes into law.

Hosemann said he hoped that the procedures to activate the amendment could be put forth through regulation, but the Legislature could have to pass an enabling law.

State Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who sponsored the petition that put the amendment on the ballot, said he has already contacted Hosemann’s office and is willing to sponsor any needed bill when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3. Lawmakers will also need to appropriate money to pay for implementation, a cost estimated at $1.5 million before the election.

Fillingane said he supports the state accepting a relatively long list of documents, including photo identification issued to students by state universities and colleges. Some states with strict laws have rejected using college IDs.

Hosemann said plans call for setting up equipment to issue identification in each county’s circuit clerk office. The Republican secretary of state said he began meeting with Public Safety officials before the election to discuss implementation.

With Mississippi’s approval of voter ID, 31 states now mandate some form of identification, said Jennie Bowser of the National Council of State Legislatures. Of those, 15 require photo identification. Eight, including Mississippi, force voters without ID to cast affidavit or similar ballots and return later with identification for their votes to count. Some other states that require photo ID, including Louisiana, allow voters to cast a regular ballot after swearing to their identity.

Despite the widespread nature of identification requirements, Bowser said she believed that the requirement could still be open to federal court challenge, especially if opponents can find people who are unable to vote because of the rule.

“The constitutionality of voter ID has not been fully settled yet,” she said.

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