By Bill Minor
JACKSON – There he goes again – to borrow an expression by a Republican deity – Mississippi’s Secretary of State, Delbert Hosemann, who continues to make banal statements giving the impression that the state’s proposed photo ID voting law is likely to survive federal scrutiny.
That’s not going to happen. The handwriting is already on the wall, as made clear from the D.C. federal court panel’s ruling on the Texas ID law, and the rough treatment South Carolina is getting from the Department of Justice on its photo ID Voter law.
To begin with, because of its history of suppressing minority voting dating back to the post Civil War era, Mississippi is the least likely state to get an OK under the 1965 Voting Rights law to make any voting rights change that smells like the old poll tax.
Furthermore, Hosemann keeps giving the impression he’s in charge of Mississippi’s submission of HB 921, the state’s photo ID voter law, to DOJ, when that is not the case. The 1965 Voting Rights Act designated the state’s chief legal office for DOJ to deal with. Attorney General Jim Hood is Mississippi’s chief legal officer. Though he has been low-key about it, Hood is the one to whom DOJ sends official letters if it asks the state for further information (as it has done) about its proposed voting law change.
That’s why behind the scenes Mississippi’s voter ID law is caught in a big impasse.
DOJ has asked for information – rules, regulations and implementation procedures for the law’s operation – which Hosemann is supposed to furnish, and has failed to do. He contends that under HB 921 he can’t do it until the law is effectuated under the Voting Rights Act.
Hosemann’s media show would be harmless as just another politician’s pipedream if it weren’t for the confusion it spreads among those most adversely affected – the elderly and poor who cannot provide the required photo ID.
“I’m 99 percent certain Mississippians will not have to show a state-issued photo ID in order to vote on Nov. 6,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the state NAACP, one of several litigants who have sued to strike down the state Voter ID law enacted in the 2012 legislative session.
The movement to require citizens to present an approved photo ID in order to cast a ballot has been pushed for 15 years by Mississippi Republicans as an asserted remedy for voter integrity. Yet, not in memory has there been a case in Mississippi of a voter falsely impersonating some other person when he appears at a voting place. One significant document DOJ could ask for is an accurate state voter register. Because of Mississippi’s antique voter registration law, Hosemann couldn’t provide one, because each county controls purging its registration rolls of dead or people no longer in the county. Some 20 or more counties at last count had many “phantom” voters on their rolls.
In an obvious move to bypass Hood, GOP allies of Hosemann stuck a $495,000 item into his appropriation for legal fees, to hire attorneys if he goes to the D.C. district court rather than DOJ for clearance of the state Voter ID law. Texas tried that route and it didn’t work. In fact, the D.C. court harshly held the Texas law imposed “unforgiving burdens on the poor and racial minorities.”
Would Mississippi be any different?
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.