The June 3 party primaries for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives will be the first elections in which Mississippians will be required to show a government-issued photo ID when voting. This is the result of a constitutional amendment approved by 64 percent of Mississippi voters in 2011 and a subsequent law passed by the 2012 Legislature.
The voter ID movement has the markings of a solution in search of a problem since fraudulent voting at the polls on election day is very rare. If there’s a problem with voter fraud, it’s with absentee ballots.
Nevertheless, the requirement is not as onerous as some critics of the legislation contend in an era in which almost everyone is accustomed to using identification of some type in routine daily transactions. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has undertaken an expansive outreach campaign to identify those Mississippians without government-issued photo IDs and to assist in securing them free of charge.
In Mississippi, as in other Southern states with a history of voter discrimination, the topic is sensitive since there was a time when black voters were systematically denied the right to vote through a variety of then-legal means. Yet equating voter ID with such past discriminatory efforts simply isn’t responsible or accurate.
That’s why President Barack Obama’s statement last week that voter ID laws put the right to vote under threat is a rash and irresponsible thing for anyone, but especially a president, to say.
Voter ID laws already in effect in other states haven’t reduced minority voter turnout. Yet Democrats see such motives behind Republican-led voter ID efforts. Turnout in this fall’s mid-term elections is key for Democrats, who have a hard time getting their voters to the polls in non-presidential election years. The party is pressing the notion that Republicans are trying to keep Democratic-heavy minority constituencies from voting as a way to motivate those voters to go to the polls.
That’s understandable from a partisan political standpoint. And President Obama as the Democratic Party leader is certainly within bounds to disagree with the laws passed.
But for Obama to claim that “the right to vote is threatened today in a way it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago” puts partisanship above the presidential responsibility not to recklessly stretch the truth.
The right to vote in America is not under threat, in spite of the president’s rhetoric. Those who wish to vote will be able to do so. It would be great if more people would go to the polls without the benefit of emotional incitement.