By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The U.S. Department of Justice still is considering whether to preclear Mississippi’s voter identification requirement that was approved by voters in November 2011.
Jan Schaefer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Jim Hood, said information requested by the Justice Department on March 21 “is being sought and will be submitted to DOJ as it is collected from various officials and agencies which have it.”
Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, said the Justice Department in March requested “any correspondence between legislators, elected officials, employees and members of the public regarding voter ID. Because this was an unusually broad request without specific dates, we worked with the Justice Department on clarifying the scope of information and time frame.”
Once the Justice Department receives the information, it will have 60 days to respond. Under federal law, any changes to Mississippi elections must be approved by the Justice Department to ensure they do not violate minority voting rights.
Voter ID is a particularly thorny issue. Opponents, primarily Democrats, say the requirement unfairly targets the poor, particularly minorities, who might not have a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license.
Supporters, primarily Republicans, say they are only trying to ensure honest elections, though others contend there is no evidence of fraud that would be thwarted by a government-issued photo ID.
Weaver said since the state submitted the guidelines for how voter ID would be administered in the state in January 2012, the Justice Department has made two additional requests for information.
At one point, Hosemann, who oversees state elections, had discussed the possibility of bypassing the Justice Department approval process and going directly to the federal courts to try to garner approval. Justice Department ruling on voting rights issues can be appealed to the D.C. federal court.
Voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas have been blocked by the Justice Department and currently are in the federal courts. The Texas law also was rejected by a federal court.
Hosemann has argued that the Mississippi law is different from what was rejected in Texas. For instance, a photo ID from a public Mississippi university or college could be used to vote. Under the Texas law, a photo ID from a public university was not listed as acceptable ID to vote.
In Mississippi, the plan is to put cameras in each courthouse where people who do not have an acceptable form of ID, such as a driver’s license or student ID, can obtain an ID free of charge.
Hosemann has said his office also is working to locate people who do not have a photo ID to see if they need help getting to a courthouse to obtain one.
The Legislature has appropriated $395,000 for Hosemann’s office to appeal any rejection by the Justice Department and $226,000 to enact the law.
Voter ID has been an issue in Mississippi since the early 1990s. The issue has been blocked in the Legislature, but in November 2011 voters approved a citizen-sponsored initiative by 62 to 38 percent.
Hosemann’s office had hoped to have voter ID in place for the 2012 national elections. It also will not be in place this year for ongoing municipal elections.
Whether it is in place in 2014 when Mississippians go to the polls to elect a U.S. senator and all four U.S. House members, plus numerous judicial posts, remains to be seen.