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Controversial voter ID bill heads to governor's desk

JACKSON — A Mississippi voter ID bill is headed to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he supports it as a way to protect the integrity of elections.

The final version of the bill passed the Republican controlled House 79-39 yesterday, with strong opposition from black representatives. It would require voters to show a driver’s license or other form of photo identification before casting a ballot.

The bill is intended to enact a state constitutional amendment that 62 percent of Mississippi voters adopted in last November’s general election.

Bryant has pledged to sign the bill into law. However, there’s no guarantee that the ID requirement will ever take effect.

Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, any new election laws must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which will check to ensure that the changes don’t dilute minority voting strength. The Justice Department in recent months has blocked voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, two other southern states that are also required to get election laws approved under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The department said the ID laws in those states would disproportionately hurt minority voters.

Opponents in Mississippi, including most black lawmakers, have said requiring ID could suppress voter turnout among poor, elderly and minority voters who are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport.

Mississippi House Elections Committee Chairman Bill Denny, R-Jackson, said the Mississippi bill would allow the state to issue photo ID cards at no cost to voters, with the state paying the tab.

“In addition to that, we tracked the Indiana law, and the Indiana law has been held up by the … Supreme Court,” Denny told reporters Thursday.

The first version of the bill passed the House 78-40 on March 14. The Senate made some small changes to the bill and passed it 34-14 on April 10.

One Senate change was to say a photo ID would not have to be shown by any voter who has a religious objection to being photographed. Instead, the person could vote by affidavit ballot and make a sworn statement about the religious objection.

The House vote yesterday was to accept the Senate changes and send the bill to the governor. The voter ID bill was brought up after the House had spent about five hours debating its own redistricting plan, and there was little discussion about the ID bill before it passed.

“I guess people were just exhausted after a long day,” said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, who has argued strongly against voter ID bills in the past.

The National Council of State Legislatures says four states currently have photo identification requirements as strict as the one Mississippi could enact.

The bill is House Bill 921.


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