Mississippi submits proposed voter ID rules to feds

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi’s top elections official said Tuesday that he has given the federal government proposed rules for how the state intends to carry out a voter identification law that is in limbo.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s submission to the U.S. Justice Department is part of the state’s process of seeking federal approval of the law that would require every voter to show a driver’s license or other photo ID at the polls.

The law can’t take effect without clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court. It’s unclear when, or how, the department will respond. Hosemann started seeking approval several months ago.

“Our agency is proposing procedures to ensure every eligible voter who does not currently have acceptable photo ID will be able to obtain an ID easily and free of charge,” Republican Hosemann said in a news release Tuesday.

Any voter who lacks ID could get one free from a circuit clerk, he said. Each of the 82 counties has at least one circuit clerk’s office; a few have two.

The secretary of state’s office also obtained an agreement allowing circuit clerks to verify birth records with the state Department of Health, at no cost to a voter who needs ID. Critics have said this wouldn’t help voters who were born at home or in other states.

Hosemann said any voter who needs a photo ID also could get a free ride to the circuit clerk’s office, through an agreement his office reached with the state Department of Transportation.

Mississippi voters in November 2011 approved a state constitutional amendment to require photo ID at the polls. Legislators passed a law in 2012 to enact the provisions.

Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, it needs federal approval for any election changes.

Supporters of voter ID say it would dissuade people from masquerading as others to vote. Critics say there’s scant evidence of that happening, and they frequently compare the ID requirement to poll taxes that used to be levied to prevent black voters, and some poor white voters, from casting ballots.