GOP claims enough names to get voter ID on ballot

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi Republicans say they have enough signatures to put a voter ID initiative on the November 2011 ballot.

State GOP Chairman Brad White told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the party will submit the certified names to the secretary of state’s office on Thursday. That’s the deadline for the party to end a one-year effort to get registered voters to sign petitions.

White said the party has roughly 120,000 signatures certified by local circuit clerks. That’s more than the minimum 17,857 needed.

“A lot of people after the last legislative session said voter ID is dead,” White said Wednesday. “This is proof it’s obviously not.”

Mississippi lawmakers have fought for more than a decade over whether to require voters to show identification at the polls, with Republicans pushing the issue and many Democrats opposing it.

A voter ID bill passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2009 but was killed by Republican senators in a committee. The senators objected because the bill also would have allowed people to vote several days before an election.

Supporters say requiring a photo ID would prevent people from voting under others’ identities.

Opponents say there’s no proof that such fraud exists, and that an ID requirement could intimidate some older black people who were once subject to Jim Crow laws.

If the secretary of state’s office verifies that Republicans have enough valid signatures on their petitions, the voter ID initiative would appear on the ballot at the same time Mississippians choose a governor, other statewide officers and all 174 legislators.

Voters would decide whether Mississippians would be required to show a driver’s license or other government-issued photo identification card before casting ballots.

Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson said he opposes requiring voter ID because he believes it could diminish people’s constitutional rights in a state where black people were once violently kept away from the polls.

“It is a political issue that one political party uses to galvanize its voters,” Johnson said last week at the Capitol.

White said Republicans worked “tooth and toenail” to get enough names on petitions. State law requires an equal number of signatures to come from each of the five U.S. House districts that Mississippi used before 2000. That’s a strategic challenge for petitioners because the state now has four House districts and the old district lines can be tricky to follow.

“Without the Tea Party, 9-12 and other patriot groups, we couldn’t have been successful,” White said. “We need to be embracing them and encouraging them to join the party of their beliefs.”