SID SALTER: Voter ID has been politically useful for both sides

By Sid Salter

The voter ID initiative that Mississippi voters will approve on the 2011 general election ballot is one that has been a long time coming and that has survived much political intrigue.
As noted before by this writer, the reliably paternal, well-intentioned arguments that have been put forth against passing a voter ID law in Mississippi are just that – paternal and well-intentioned – but in the final analysis are political. Asking a voter for photo identification isn’t going to intimidate anyone from voting – particularly not older African-American voters who had to take part in the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. Why are we still debating this issue? Voter ID should be welcomed by all.
But in opposing a 2009 legislative deal that would have enacted voter ID and early voting, a handful of Senate Republicans revealed just how much they wanted voter ID on the 2011 ballot as a “get-out-the-vote” mechanism. They rejected a legislative compromise that would have made voter ID the law of the land on the ruse that early voting represented some type of threat to fair elections. Yet clearly, GOP opposition to early voting was rooted in the perception that early voting will raise voter turnout among people not predisposed to vote Republican.
The “danger” of early voting is a political creation, not a factual one even for Republicans. 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. Early voting is dangerous to the GOP? The numbers put the lie to that argument.
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.
GOP gamesmanship on the voter ID issue as a “get out the vote” mechanism is inarguable both for Democrats posturing against it and their parrots in the media.
Lest we all forget that in 2008 the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee of Forest that Noxubee County Democratic Party Chairman Ike Brown systematically violated white voters’ rights.
The landmark case marked the first time in history that the federal government has used the 1965 Voting Rights Act to protect the rights of white voters.
Lee in 2007 ruled in favor of the U.S. Justice Department officials who claimed that Brown disenfranchised white voters in Noxubee County in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Brown appealed the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a three-judge panel affirmed Lee’s ruling.
The feds proved that Brown and his loyalists rigged the voting process against white voters by manipulating voter rolls, making threats to ban some whites from voting and miscounting ballots to ensure white candidates lost, and committing other discriminatory acts.
In the 2007 statewide elections, Lee banned Brown from running Democratic Party primaries to ensure whites’ voting rights weren’t violated.
State convictions against Benton County officials have proven that voter ID is indeed needed and that opposition to it is far more partisan posturing than the statement of any real grievances. But the same can also be said for early voting.
Voter ID, long overdue, will be approved by Mississippi voters in 2011. Most of the rhetoric against it comes from the old, paternal liberals who aren’t comfortable admitting that the Freedom Riders are now geriatrics and that their descendants are quite capable of forcefully asserting and protecting their hard-won voting rights.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (662) 325-2506 or ssalter@library.msstate.edu.