By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
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JACKSON — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Wednesday that he thinks it would be a good idea for people in the state to voluntarily show identification when they vote, even though it’s not required by law.
“If you have to show a ID to buy a pack of cigarettes or to buy alcohol, which you should, then certainly you ought to have to present an ID to vote, so that we are certain that you’re not stealing someone else’s liberty and their chance to vote,” Bryant said.
Bryant’s comments came in response to a question from The Associated Press after he spoke at the Mississippi Economic Council’s Hobnob, a social gathering for business people and politicians.
Mississippians in November 2011 approved a constitutional amendment to require each voter to show a driver’s license or other photo identification before casting a ballot. Legislators voted early this year to put ID provisions into state law. However, because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the state needs federal approval before it can enact any voting changes and it hasn’t received that.
The U.S. Justice Department in early October asked Mississippi officials for more information about the proposed law, including facts that might prove an ID law won’t discriminate against minority citizens.
Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, the state’s top elections official, said weeks ago that ID won’t be required in this year’s presidential election. Absentee voting is already happening, and the election is next Tuesday.
Critics compare voter ID to a poll tax and say it could disproportionately hurt poor, older and minority voters.
Tea party groups in Mississippi have suggested people show a driver’s license or other photo identification as a protest of the federal government’s lack of action on the proposed voter ID law in the state.
Bryant has appealed to tea party voters on immigration enforcement and other issues, and AP asked him Wednesday whether he agrees with their proposal of showing ID as a form of protest.
“I think that would be a great idea,” Bryant said. “You know, I almost automatically did that for years and the ladies at the counter would take my driver’s license and look at it and check my address. So, I think that’s a very good idea.
“I noticed the other day that President Obama presented his ID in Illinois before he could vote,” Bryant said. “And if it’s good enough for the president, it’s certainly good enough for the people of Mississippi.”
Rep. Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, Democratic leader in the Mississippi House, said in a separate interview that Bryant’s comments are irresponsible and misleading.
“He’s the elected chief executive officer of this state, and his words are listened to,” said Moak, who voted against the proposed voter ID law.
Moak said Bryant’s words are like a feather pillow opened on a windy street corner, saying they could scatter widely and make a mess.
“The concerted effort now, by elected officials, should be to say, ‘Hold on. That’s not the law of the land,’” Moak said.
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