BOBBY HARRISON: Justice's questions delay state's Voter ID law

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

ACKSON – Those on the left and on the right of Mississippi politics got it wrong Tuesday.
They got it wrong after the U.S. Department of Justice requested additional information on Mississippi’s new law requiring voters to display a government-issued photo identification. Under federal law, because of Mississippi’s history of minority voter suppression, all changes to the state election process must be approved by either the Justice Department or the federal courts.
By requesting additional information, the Justice Department in effect pushed back its deadline to rule, from this week until probably sometime in December.
Even a news release from Democratic Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said the ruling meant photo ID would not be required for the November election.
Some conservatives criticized Hood for not doing enough to ensure the Justice Department approved the law. They wanted him to whoop and holler more.
Other conservatives lambasted what they described as a politicized Justice Department for ensuring that Mississippians would not be required to display voter ID. Presumably, they argued, the Justice Department did this to help President Barack Obama.
Democrats – seeing that some Republicans were upset – figured that this must be a good thing.
First of all, if the folks at the Justice Department are really as political as some people would contend, then they understand that a voter ID law in Mississippi would have no impact on who is the next president. Mississippians will vote by an overwhelming margin for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Assuming, for the stake of argument, the voter ID law would keep some people from voting, it still would have no impact on the national election
Even if it did have enough impact to alter the outcome of the national popular vote – and it wouldn’t – that still would not matter. The only thing that matters, of course, is the electoral vote. Even the most pollyannaish Democrat, using the most rose-colored glasses, concedes that Mississippi’s six electoral votes are in Romney’s column.
Other than the possibility of some judicial races, most political observers believe that the Mississippi ballot will be void of nail-biters.
If the voter ID requirement disenfranchises as many people as some studies contend, it could have an impact in future state or local elections. And who knows, perhaps at some point in the future, Mississippi might be viewed as a swing state where a few votes one way or the other might alter the outcome of the presidential race or the state might have competitive races for the U.S. House or Senate. Currently, though, Mississippi is nowhere near swing-state status.
Regardless of whether Mississippi swings, it has been obvious for sometime that the state’s voter-ID law would not be enacted in time to be used during this November’s elections.
As far back as June, Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, perhaps the state’s most vocal voter ID advocate, conceded that it would be unlikely for the state to have all its ducks in a row in time to initiate voter ID in the November election. Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Hosemann said via email in mid-June, “As much as we would like for the requirement to be implemented by November, the feasibility of implementing the requirement by that time is unlikely.”
The fact is even if the Justice Department had approved Mississippi’s voter-ID law, there is still work to do. The law calls for Hosemann’s office to develop a process for the Department of Public Safety to place cameras in the county courthouses so that people without a driver’s license, public university identification card or some other type of government-issued ID, can go to the circuit clerk’s office to get one free of charge
The Legislature has yet to appropriate money for that process.
My best guess is that later this year the Justice Department will reject the Mississippi voter ID law. But it is hard to make a logical case that the Justice Department’s decision this week had anything to do with the November elections.
But to say it did fits into a nice and simple narrative for the right and the left. And unfortunately, in modern politics, developing that narrative is all that matters.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.