MOTOR VOTER BILL CLEARS SENATE
How Northeast Mississippi senators voted on the motor-voter bill:
Nickey Browning, D-Ecru; Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Jack Gordon, D-Okolona; Travis Little, D-Corinth; Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo; Gray Tollison, D-Oxford; Bennie Turner, D-West Point; John White, D-Baldwyn.
Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs.
By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The motor-voter law, which allows a person to register to vote when getting a driver’s license, passed the state Senate Friday after about 90 minutes of sometimes emotional debate.
Supporters said it is important to conform Mississippi statutes to the federal motor-voter law. The bill, which passed the Senate 32-14, would do just that.
Alice Harden, D-Jackson, chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, said conformity is needed so that voters are not confused. Harden said there are about 30,000 Mississippians who registered under the federal motor-voter law who can vote for president or their U.S. congressman but cannot vote for governor, state legislator, sheriff, mayor, supervisor, judges and other state and local offices.
As it now stands, individuals who took advantage of the federal motor-voter law must register again at their local circuit clerk’s office or complete Mississippi’s mail-in form in order to vote in statewide elections.
Money and confusion
Secretary of State Eric Clark, who oversees Mississippi’s elections, praised the Senate action.
“Our state law needs to conform to our federal law as to procedures for registering to vote,” Clark said. “If we have separate procedures, there are a lot of unnecessary expenses to the taxpayers. We have to have two sets of registration books and two sets of ballots in November. That is not necessary if the laws conform.”
The nonconforming laws were confusing during last year’s state elections. Many of the people who registered under the federal motor-voter law also thought they would be allowed to vote in state elections.
But the motor-voter bill never made it out of the state Senate Elections Committee last year.
Harden said those 30,000 people will be allowed to vote in the November state elections if the bill passes the House and is signed by the governor. If the bill does not become law, there will have to be two sets of ballots in November. One ballot would be for people registered under the federal motor-voter law who could only vote for president, U.S. senator and U.S. House member. And then there will be another ballot with those federal posts plus state judgeships.
Harden said she hopes the bill’s wide margin of victory in the Senate bodes well for its chances in the House. But Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, chairman of the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, said he had some questions.
“The need for it,” he said was the big question. “I don’t know of any restrictions on people wanting to vote. They have the right.” Plus, Denny and other opponents said it would put additional responsibilities on employees, such as Highway Patrol personnel, who were supposed to be performing other duties.
Harden countered those people would not have additional responsibilities. There is a box on the driver’s license application form for people to check if they want to register to vote.
During debate on the Senate floor, Harden said it is important to make it as easy as possible for people to vote in today’s fast-paced world.
But opponents said motor-voter would make it easier for people to commit election fraud. Sen. Bill Minor, D-Holly Springs, introduced an amendment that would require people to produce a picture identification when voting. The amendment failed 23-16.
Minor said the amendment would prevent people from voting twice. But opponents said the picture identification would be a form of a poll tax because some elderly people do not drive and would be forced to pay for a picture ID to vote.
Debate on the bill was heated at times.
Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, asked Minor, “Are you aware of the blood that has been spilled for the right to vote? You have senior citizens afraid to go to these places to register. You are putting an extra burden on them.”
Minor countered, “I am not putting an extra burden on them. I am putting an extra burden on the right to vote twice.”
While Minor’s amendment was defeated, one proposed by Jim Bean, R-Hattiesburg, was approved. That amendment rescinded the right to vote for all people convicted of a felony. The current law takes away the right to vote for some felons, but not for convicted drug dealers.
The final vote on the bill split close to party lines. Two of the Senate’s 18 Republicans voted for it. Thirty of the Senate’s 34 Democrats voted for it.