By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said comments a U.S. Department of Justice analyst made about Mississippi reinforces his fear that the state will not get a fair hearing on its new voter identification law.
Hosemann held a news conference Tuesday morning to blast comments made on Facebook by Stephanie Calandine Gyamfi, a DOJ Elections Division analyst, who allegedly said Mississippi should change its motto from the Magnolia State to the “Shameful and disgusting state.”
In a letter to Hosemann, T. Christian Herren Jr., chief of the DOJ’s Election Division, said Gyamfi, as a private citizen, was responding to an incident where members of the University of Southern Mississippi pep band were chanting ethnic slurs to members of an opposition basketball team during USM’s recent appearance in the NCAA championship tournament. Still, he said he would ensure that she did not participate in any matters concerning Mississippi.
Hosemann said Gyamfi’s comments are “another indication Mississippi’s voter ID submission will not receive fair consideration. The real problem is not the current culture of Mississippi, but the current culture of the Justice Department.”
Based on those comments and other recent actions, such as the rejection of voter ID laws from Texas and South Carolina, Hosemann said he is considering bypassing efforts to garner Justice Department approval. The other option would be to go straight to federal court in Washington to try to gain approval.
“I am leaning in that direction,” Hosemann said.
During the just-completed legislative session, Hosemann was granted $395,000 to pursue voter ID litigation. Additional legislation gave Hosemann, as well as other state officials, broad authority to go to court and bypass Department of Justice review.
Normally, the Mississippi attorney general tries to obtain approval from the Justice Department to state election law changes under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Hosemann said it is possible that Attorney General Jim Hood might be trying to obtain Justice Department approval while he is trying to do the same in federal court. When Hosemann was asked why he wanted to hire private attorneys instead of Hood pursuing any court action, Hosemann said it is common practice to hire Washington-based attorneys for such cases. And when asked why not wait until the Justice Department rules and appeal that decision to federal court if necessary, Hosemann said he wanted to move quickly.
Mississippians approved a voter ID initiative in November. Legislation was passed this year to clarify how the new law would be enacted. Driver’s licenses and IDs from universities and community colleges would be sufficient to vote.
Hosemann said photo IDs could be obtained free at any Department of Public Safety driver’s license bureau or any courthouse.
The state also will have the ability to access copies of birth certificates of people applying for the ID to ensure people do not have to pay to obtain a copy.
Hosemann said his office would work to find people who do not have an ID and give them an opportunity to get one. “Our plan is to make sure you are who you say you are – not to deny” a person from voting, Hosemann said.