By Bobby Harrison/Daily Journal
The state House passed 78-40 on Wednesday contentious legislation requiring people to have a government-issued photo identification to vote.
The measure has been debated for more than a decade, but the difference this year is that the debate comes after voters in November overwhelmingly approved a citizen-sponsored initiative to amend the state Constitution to require voter ID.
The House-passed legislation provides specifics of how and when the voter ID initiative would be enacted. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, but the Senate might wait to take up the House bill.
After the legislation is passed, Attorney General Jim Hood will submit it to the U.S. Department of Justice as required under the federal Voting Rights Act.
In recent months, the Justice Department has rejected voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas on the grounds that minority voters were less likely to have a valid ID. The states can appeal.
House Elections Chair Bill Denny, R-Jackson, said his goal is to get the proposal to the Justice Department “as quickly as possible and hope they will uphold it” for the November elections.
Despite the recent rejection of the Texas voter ID plan by the Justice Department, Denny said, “I am a little optimistic” Mississippi’s plan will be approved. “I think in the first place we have two or three more photo IDs (that can be used to allow a person to vote.) Plus, our IDs are paid for.”
Under the bill, locations to obtain a state-issued ID would be established in the circuit clerk’s office in each county courthouse and at locations where the Department of Public Safety issues driver’s licenses.
The legislation identified various types of identification, such as a driver’s license, a student ID from an accredited university or college, or a passport, as acceptable to vote. But for people who might not have an acceptable government-issued, photo identification, the locations set up at the courthouses and Public Safety locations would provide a photo ID free of charge.
In past years, it has been primarily black legislators who have blocked efforts to pass voter ID. They said poor people, which include a disproportionately large number of black voters, would be less likely to have an ID. Plus, older black voters who could remember a time when state law prevented them from voting might feel intimidated.
Supporters of voter ID said it would cut down on voter fraud.