OPINION: Petition drive aside, Republicans killed Voter ID

The Mississippi Republican Party is going to great lengths to cloak itself as the party that wants to lead the state to a meaningful voter identification law. There’s a fundraiser this week in northeast Mississippi to raise money for what is being touted as the “Miss. GOP Voter ID initiative.”
The Republican Party is helping to distribute Voter ID initiative petitions on its Web site. State GOP Chairman Brad White recently told the Associated Press said he hoped to get the voter ID initiative on the ballot for November 2010.
What’s curious about the GOP full court press in support of a Voter ID ballot initiative is the fact that back in March, House Republicans accused Senate Republicans of gutting a Voter ID compromise bill they supported.
Back in March, state Sen. Merle Flowers led the Senate Elections Committee to kill the election reform bill that would have finally given Mississippi Voter ID. Flowers and his cohorts did so over the objections of Bryant’s Senate Election’s Committee chairman Sen. Terry C. Burton, R-Newton.
Flowers joined with fellow GOP Sens. Billy Hewes, Joey Fillingane and Chris McDaniel to kill the election reform bill that House Republicans worked hard to craft.
In a published blog, state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, called it like he saw it:
“Elections Chairman Sen. Terry Burton proposed a revised version which solved some problems in the bill, and planned to ask the Senate to pass it over to the House for concurrence or conference. But four fellow Republicans on Burton’s committee just up and killed the bill.
“The ostensible reason for killing the bill is that it contained provisions for early voting as well as for photo Voter I.D. But the early voting provisions were crafted by House Republicans with the active input of both the secretary of state and the governor.
“Had aversion to early voting been the real reason for Senate opposition, the language easily could have been stripped before passing the bill out of committee. The failure of the four senators to even attempt to do that implies there is something else at play. Clearly, these senators didn’t want the bill improved; they wanted it dead,” Snowden concluded.
One of justifications Flowers offered for helping kill the compromise bill was that the bill “would have allowed felons to gain suffrage or the right to vote.”
Clearly, that was a less then clever political ruse. State law already empowers about 73 percent of the state’s incarcerated felons to vote.
The other argument that the GOP senators and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant – whose role in the death of the Voter ID bill in Burton’s committee remains murky – used for killing it was the “danger” of early voting.
Of course, in the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama carried 28 states – 13 of which had early voting. Republican nominee John McCain carried 22 states – 17 of which had early voting. Dangerous to the GOP? Hardly.
In the Southeast, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee all permit no-excuse, in-person early voting at election offices or other satellite locations. The GOP carried every one of those states except Florida. That’s a fact, folks.
State voters should support Voter ID, but they should not give the GOP a pass for killing it in 2009 for primarily craven political purposes.
Contact syndicated Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com.

Sid Salter