By Bill Minor
JACKSON – For years, Republicans have been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a government-issued photo ID requirement for voting through the Legislature. It has failed, largely because it smacked of Jim Crowism. Enough legislators in the past have seen the photo ID requirement as just a new burden to disenfranchise black citizens who for decades suffered voter oppression under the racist 1890 Constitution.
On Nov. 8, bypassing the Legislature and using the initiative ballot route, the GOP-led movement may accomplish its goal and win adoption of an ID constitutional amendment.
Besides having racial undertones, the hoopla that a photo ID is needed to prevent voter fraud is grossly misrepresented. It aims to stamp out a problem that doesn’t exist. Yes, there have been some cases of voter fraud in the past, but not one of them involved someone misidentifying himself at the polls. No one whose name, for instance, is Joe Blow, showed up at the polls and said he was Lou Blue.
Most fraudulent voting schemes have involved hustlers collecting absentee ballots from elderly (usually black) persons. Of course, there have been instances of plain old vote buying, a practice as old as the hills that no photo ID could stop. (I will never forget the time roly-poly state Sen. Clarence Strider, a former sheriff in black-majority Coahoma County, flatly confessed on the Senate floor in the late 1960s that he used to pay $25 each to buy black votes.)
Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who, significantly, is also the state’s chief state election officer, is the Voter ID crowd’s strongest advocate. Hosemann also is pushing for adoption of two other controversial amendments put on the ballot by initiative petitions, one declaring when life begins in the womb and the other restricting eminent domain power to acquire property for economic development for public use. Lawsuits are challenging both of the latter amendments.
No initiative amendment has won a majority in any November general election since the ballot initiative amending power was enacted by the Legislature in the 1990s. Two other amendments that made it to the ballot – both to install legislator term limits – were rejected by voters.
The Mississippi Republican Party, according to records, contributed $16,500 to the campaign for the measure to require a government ID in order to vote – further evidence of a well-coordinated scheme by Republican lawmakers (and governors) across several states to make voting harder for citizens, particularly minorities, who tend to support Democrats.
Hosemann, who gave up a lucrative practice as a tax attorney for a large Jackson law firm to run for secretary of state in 2007, has become a target of critics, both within and outside his own party, for pushing the powers of his office beyond its bounds.
He first got into hot water with school board members who charged he was micromanaging 16th Section school land leases. Then came a run-in with Gulf Coast city officials over his attempt to control municipal harbors under his power to supervise leasing of coastal tidelands. When Hosemann on March 1 gave the brush-off to Gulfport City Councilman Ricky Dombrowski over his (Hosemann’s) plan to take over the city’s small craft harbor and boat slips, the Gulfport official promptly qualified with the Mississippi Republican Party to run for secretary of state.
Dombrowski told me in a telephone interview that he and other Coast municipal officials believed Hosemann is using the secretary of state job as a stepping stone toward his ultimate goal of seeking to replace U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who likely will step down at the end of his current sixth term in 2014.
State Rep. Diane Peranich, D-DeLisle, a 24-year legislative veteran, contends that Hosemann, as the state’s chief election official, has become too much involved in partisan politics, declaring: “The voting process should be nonpartisan.”
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.