By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, armed with Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling on the federal Voting Rights Act, said his office would begin immediately to enact voter identification requirements.
The Republican secretary of state predicted that the state’s law requiring a person to provide a government-issued photo ID to vote would be in effect for the party primary elections next June. He said he does not believe his office can enact the law soon enough to be used for any special elections later this year.
The state’s photo ID law, originally passed by voters in 2011, has been blocked by the U.S. Department of Justice as it gathered information on whether the ID requirement weakened minority-voter participation.
But based on Tuesday’s historic 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Mississippi will no longer have to get changes to its election laws approved by the Justice Department before they can be enacted.
The court overturned Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required nine states, mostly in the South, and other counties throughout the nation, to have their election changes precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to combat the suppression of minority voting rights that was rampant in Mississippi and other southern states.
Hosemann and other state officials said oversight of Mississippi is no longer needed.
“The United States Supreme Court placed Mississippi on equal footing with other states,” Hosemann said of the ruling. “…Mississippi citizens have earned the right to determine our voting process. Our relationships and trust in each other have matured. The chapter is closed.”
Not all state officials were welcoming of the ruling.
“There is certainly a need for oversight,” said Rep. Credell Calhoun, D-Jackson, one of 49 African-Americans in the 174-member Legislature. “Simply, when the other side is in the majority they can make changes that reduce the numbers representing the black community. When you don’t have oversight, that can happen.”
Calhoun credited the Voting Rights Act for his first election to the House in 1979. He later served on the Jackson City Council before his second tenure in the state House.
“The Voting Rights Act was the most important piece of legislation during the ‘60s transforming the electoral process for blacks in the South,” he said.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, agreed, saying, “I think we suffered a tremendous loss today. I was not surprised, given the philosophical bent of the court majority.”
Hosemann, like the majority ruling of the court on the issue, said the Voting Rights Act played a major role in correcting electoral misdeeds, but said that Section 4 is no longer needed. He said Mississippi had joined the rest of the country in protecting minority rights.
“We’re not going back 50 years,” Hosemann said.
Under the Voting Right Act Section 4, major changes, such as congressional and legislative redistricting, to minor changes, such as moving a polling precinct, had to be approved by the Justice Department before they could be enacted.
Hosemann said the Justice Department still would have oversight authority in the sense that it could file a court challenge if it believes there is voter suppression. But the state does not have to preclear all election changes before enacting them.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Hood said his office, which is tasked with defending state election changes before the Justice Department and the courts, is still studying the ruling.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves said, “The practice of preclearance unfairly applied to certain states should be eliminated in recognition of the progress Mississippi has made over the past 48 years.”
Gov. Phil Bryant hailed the ruling, saying the court “has taken a measured view of our country’s electoral landscape and recognized that the current coverage formula is outdated.”
Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker as well as 1st District Rep. Alan Nunnelee all issued statements saying the court’s recognition of the progress of Mississippi and other southern states was welcome.