Barring significant developments such as a court challenge, Mississippi’s voter ID law is set to take effect with the congressional primary elections next June.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said last week in an interview with the Daily Journal that implementation efforts, including outreach to people who may not already have government-issued photo identification, are on schedule.
It’s been a long and contentious road. For more than two decades, voter ID bills languished in the Legislature. Petitioners got the issue on the ballot in 2011 and Mississippi voters decisively approved it as an amendment to the state constitution.
It’s been a racially charged issue, given Mississippi’s history of discrimination against black voters and claims by opponents that it was intended to suppress participation by minority and poor voters.
Proponents claimed it was necessary to combat voter fraud and that ID use is now so much a part of everyday life that it shouldn’t be seen as intrusive or burdensome in voting.
The arguments are both sides are exaggerated. Evidence of fraud of the type that voter ID would correct is minimal, and the charge of voter suppression and intimidation is overwrought.
Nevertheless, if we are to have a voter ID law – and it’s hard to mount a really convincing argument against it – its implementation should be well-crafted to avoid the pitfalls opponents see in it. Hosemann knows this, and he is thankfully aware of and responsive to the scrutiny Mississippi will be under when the law takes effect.
The future of the law had been unclear. The U.S. Department of Justice had delayed its approval, required under the federal Voting Rights Act, for more than a year and a half.
Then came a U.S. Supreme Court decision which essentially nullified the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act for states like Mississippi and Hosemann has proceeded with implementation.
That includes significant efforts to identify and equip, free of charge, people who may not have a proper ID, thought to be a very small portion of the electorate but one that can’t be ignored without risking court challenges. And Hosemann has taken the initiative to seek input from the Department of Justice to help avoid potential litigation.
States such as Texas and North Carolina have seen their laws challenged, and Mississippi has the advantage of learning from those cases to avoid the mistakes that got them there. The last thing this state needs is a costly and contentious court fight on voter ID.