In a puzzling turn of events, some Republicans in the Mississippi Senate – including its presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant – have lost enthusiasm for getting a voter identification bill through the Legislature.
For years they’ve tried and the House has killed the legislation. This year the House passed a bill that would require most voters to present photo identification at the polls, but the Senate Elections Committee killed it last week because it contained provisions committee members didn’t like.
The usual procedure would have been to strike the parts of the House bill the committee objected to, pass it and send it back to the other chamber. Instead, long-time supporters of voter ID killed the bill without even trying to amend it.
They say they’re ready to use the state’s initiative provision to gather enough voter signatures to get it on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.
This issue doesn’t belong in the Constitution, and it’s baffling in a year when progress has finally been made in bringing House members – especially black legislators – toward compromise, the Senate committee would call a screeching halt to it. Political gamesmanship, anyone?
Not all Republicans feel the way the committee majority does. Even the committee chairman, Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, doesn’t see the logic and has said he will try to revive the bill.
The objections to the House bill are that it includes a provision for early voting and exempts current elderly voters. The latter provision is designed to counter concerns that some black voters who experienced harassment and intimidation when trying to vote in earlier decades would see voter ID as a reminder of those days. That’s understandable, but it’s not a reason for ditching voter ID altogether.
Nor is the early voting provision. Thirty-two states now have some form of early voting, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas, and it has the potential to cut down on election day logistical headaches as well as save money.
But even if the Senate committee prefers a “clean” voter ID law, it ought to let the legislative process take its course.
No one involved in killing the bill has given a convincing reason for abandoning the legislative process, leaving the perception that the motive in tossing this long-divisive issue to the voters is to drive Republican turnout in the 2010 or 2011 elections, or whenever it gets to the ballot.
The Legislature should do its job and work out an agreement to get voter ID passed and a long-simmering issued settled. Thrusting it into the heat of a political campaign is not the responsible course.