By Errol Castens
OXFORD – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said at a forum on the Voting Rights Act and Mississippi’s Voter ID law that he anticipates early-voting legislation to be proposed in 2015.
“We have been looking at early voting for several years. I anticipate legislation next year that will allow two or three weeks of early voting,” he said at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics on Wednesday. “I anticipate that that will be favorably considered by me and others.” He added that the proposal would likely include a clause to cut off early voting for a week before an actual election day.
“On same-day registration – that’s a disaster,” Hosemann said. “We don’t need to do that. It’s too difficult for same-day registration.” He asserted that neither circuit clerks nor legislators would support such a measure.
The discussion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision that set aside the requirement for USDOJ preclearance for any election-related changes was vigorous.
“Voting is political self-help, so until the 1965 Voting Rights Act came, blacks were largely without the ability to help themselves,” said Dr. Marvin King, professor of political science at Ole Miss. “Any effort to dilute or take the teeth out of this law … in essence is making it more difficult for people to vote.”
Dr. Leslie McLemore, professor of political science at Jackson State University and former Jackson councilman, said, “Preclearance is the heart and soul of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What the Supreme Court did essentially gutted that great piece of social legislation.”
Jim Herring, former state Republican Party chairman and former state Court of Appeals member, said the disagreement on preclearance is “not so much different philosophies on what happened in the past … or whether it was needed” as on whether the same remedies are still needed and effective. He added that voter fraud is “alive and well in this country if it goes unchecked,” citing Lyndon Johnson’s ballot-box stuffing, voter fraud in favor of Jimmy Carter’s opponent in his first race for state senate and Chicago’s Daley election machine as Democrat-perpetrated examples.
“Voter ID is one way to check voter fraud,” he said.
McLemore said Mississippi’s voter ID (a ballot initiative that was passed as a constitutional amendment in 2011) is an effort to discourage minority voting.
“There are a number of black people in my generation who are intimidated by the process,” he said. “Small-town Mississippi is not Oxford, not Jackson, not Meridian,” he said. “There’s a whole different society out there.”
Hosemann defended Mississippi’s voter ID implementation as exceptionally accommodating. He noted 10 different identification cards that are acceptable and that any voter without a government ID can acquire one without cost at any circuit clerk office.
“Mississippi is the only state will pick you up and take you to the circuit clerk’s office,” he said.
King said voter ID is counterproductive.
“The long arc of American history is to make our democracy more open, more accessible and easier for people to be a part of,” he said.