By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law released a study last week concluding that voter identification laws would have a more profound impact on supposed “voter suppression” in states with poor, sparsely populated and rural populations like Mississippi than in dissimilar states.
The fact is that the Brennan Center has been in the business of issuing anti-voter ID studies for some time. Their 2006 study on voter fraud essentially concluded that voter ID was a solution seeking a problem.
The recent Brennan study cites Mississippi’s shortcomings in terms of poverty, the lack of public transportation, large isolated rural populations and the lack of local government offices located conveniently to serve those populations.
What the study misses is the fact that voter ID laws neither create nor substantially alter those Mississippi realities.
Life is hard in the poorest state in the Union every day, not just on Election Day.
The nation’s highest court has already spoken to the question of voter ID as an “undue burden” to voting in the Indiana case upon which Mississippi’s law is patterned. In the landmark 2008 case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Indiana’s voter ID statutes were constitutional.
The 6-3 majority ruling in the case held that Indiana’s voter ID laws did not create an undue burden on eligible voters who are poor, elderly or born outside the state of Indiana. Mississippi’s voter ID law – approved by 62 percent of the voters in 2011 – is a virtual mirror image of the Indiana statute.
But that’s where the similarities end. Indiana is generally free to make changes in the state’s election laws. Unlike Indiana, Mississippi is one of nine states declared “covered jurisdictions” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Covered jurisdiction” states, counties and municipalities cannot implement voting law changes without federal “preclearance” by the Justice Department.
The Voting Rights Act provided extensive federal oversight of elections in states with “a history of discriminatory voting practices” and despite the passage of 47 years, the highest percentage of black voters in the country, and the largest number of black elected officials of any state in the union, Mississippi election law changes are still subject to federal preclearance.
One issue raised by the Brennan study – in addition to the realty of Mississippi’s Section 5 status – that is problematic is the statutory “Catch 22” which holds that in order for a citizen to get a “free” state-issued photo ID, they must produce a birth certificate. Getting a Mississippi birth certificate, on the other hand, requires a state-issued photo ID and a $15 fee.
As Mississippi’s voter ID laws await either Justice Department preclearance, judicial review or both, the reality for Mississippians is that poverty is an intrinsic condition that indeed suppresses voting – along with suppressing economic development, educational attainments, and improvements to the overall quality of life. Voter ID has nothing to do with worsening those daily challenges.
And while the debate rages over Justice Department preclearance of Voter ID laws in Section 5 states, citizens ironically can’t enter the vast majority of federal buildings (including Justice Department offices) without producing photo IDs.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.