When news sources say “Voters overwhelmingly approved Voter ID in 2011 in a statewide referendum,” the common refrain from the press in Mississippi, no one ever compares the ID initiative that was passed, which made no reference to exclusions from obtaining “free” ID,to the exclusionary law the RepubliCon Mississippi Legislature enacted. The Mississippi voter disintegration law (registered Mississippians are suddenly ineligible to vote if their driver’s license is expired) also has, paraphrasing a line for the recent Lincoln film, clothed the Secretary of State in immense power. Peek-a-boo, what’s that hiding in the law? Revealing the latent southern predilection for autocracy, the law says required material presented and verified for ID issuance could be “Such other acceptable evidence of verification of residence in the county as determined by the Secretary of State.” This means that, through an electorate’s atavistic reliance on a plantation-styled noblesse oblige, today’s Secretary of State can decide that a paystub is good enough to acquire a photo ID and the next SOS can decide that its not? Having Mississippi’s legislatively-created Fuhrer decide what is “acceptable evidence of verification” kind of reminds me of the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld. Only in Mississippi it may be “no vote for you.” And if you are a married woman what exactly will the Fuhrer require you to produce, by way of documentation, to get one of those “free” IDs?
WASHINGTON – Voting rights advocates say there’s a message for Mississippi in lawsuits the Justice Department has filed during the last two months to block voting-law changes in Texas and North Carolina.
The suits claim the changes, including new voter ID laws, would suppress the minority vote.
Mississippi is moving ahead with its own voter ID law, and voting rights advocates say the recent legal actions by the Justice Department should put the state on notice that it may be next.
“The battle in North Carolina, Texas, they’re not just state fights,” said William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “They are state battles that have national implications. If you don’t stop it here, it has the potential like a virus to spread across the country.”
But Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said his state’s voter ID law is on solid footing.
“I believe Mississippi’s law is much different than North Carolina’s, and we will pass any constitutional challenge by anyone,” he said. “We are not going to be discriminatory against minorities in Mississippi … We are not our fathers’ fathers in Mississippi anymore.”
Hosemann said Mississippi’s law should be in place by June.
Justice officials filed the recent lawsuits against Texas and North Carolina in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer in a case out of Shelby County, Ala.
Until that ruling, Mississippi and other states with a history of discrimination were required under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act to get “pre-clearance” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any change to their voting procedures.
The court ruled that Section 4 of the act, which consisted of the formula used to determine which states and other jurisdictions should be subject to Section 5, is outdated and therefore unconstitutional.
Justice officials were reviewing Mississippi’s voter ID law when the court issued its ruling. The law requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls. Before the ruling, Justice officials had rejected similar laws in other Southern states subject to Section 5.
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Voting rights advocates said they were alarmed by how quickly Mississippi and other states moved to implement their new voting laws after the court decision.
Mississippi “didn’t even stop to take a breath after the decision before rushing forward” on its voter ID law, said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
Weiser said that makes her think states won’t be easily deterred, even in the face of legal challenges.
“It’s not clear to me how much those states currently are going to be slowed by the existence of lawsuits because they really did just thumb their nose at the Voting Rights Act,” she said. “That said, it certainly ought to have an impact.”
Hosemann said Mississippi took precautions to make sure its voter ID law would survive scrutiny, offering free photos for the ID cards, free transportation to get the cards and free verification for birth certificates in Mississippi and 45 other states.
The state also conducted a poll to determine who might not have IDs and how to target them.
“It’s very clear to us which people don’t have IDs, and we have devised a process to find each and every one of them and we intend to do that,” Hosemann said.
Hosemann said North Carolina’s election law is very different from the one Mississippi voters approved in 2011. In addition to a requirement that voters have a government-issued photo ID, North Carolina’s law also reduced the early-voting period and prohibited voter registration on Election Day, known as same-day registration.
Mississippi does not offer same-day registration or early voting, except for disabled people and seniors, Hosemann said.
Hosemann said he’s not surprised Attorney General Eric Holder filed the lawsuits against the changes in Texas and North Carolina.
“He’s been quite clear from the day the (Supreme Court) opinion came out that he intended to challenge every state,” Hosemann said. “I’m hopeful that our open hand to the Justice Department, our research and our regulations will deter an action against my state.”
The Mississippi NAACP has not said yet whether it would challenge the state law in court, but it has not ruled out legal action.
“The Mississippi voter ID law is just as oppressive as Texas’ and North Carolina’s voter ID laws,” said Carroll Rhodes, general counsel for the Mississippi NAACP. “The same actions being taken by affected voters and the Justice Department in those states should be explored in Mississippi.”
Edward Hailes, general counsel with the Advancement Project, said the national group would work with the Mississippi NAACP and others if there’s a challenge to the state’s law.
“North Carolina is ground zero for us, but other states are responding to the Shelby County decision by promulgating new laws, so we’re going to have to look at all of them depending on the resources we have,” he said.