SID SALTER: Voter initiatives stack up as GOP election turnout boon

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – While the ongoing legislative redistricting battle is dominating most state government headlines as the state moves toward the 2011 general election in Mississippi, three ballot initiatives loom as a virtual trifecta of conservative proposals that should prove political catnip for voters who are predisposed to vote Republican.
Clearly, it’s not accidental that these initiatives made it onto the ballot and even less accidental that they happened to hit the ballot during an election year. What is somewhat surprising is that the language on the three ballot initiatives weren’t changed or challenged during the 2011 regular session of the Legislature, but lawmakers adjourned without offering competing language for the initiatives.
Most Republicans believe the three ballot initiatives – voter identification, so-called “personhood” and eminent domain – may well sharply drive turnout among the state’s conservative voters.
It’s not a coincidence that these measures are being brought before the voters on the 2011 ballot – the same election in which state voters will choose a governor, legislators and other state and county officials.
Here’s what voters will be asked to decide:
n Voter ID – The 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.
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. 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.
n Personhood – The proposed “personhood” amendment seeks to define life as beginning at conception. Regardless of the outcome of the “personhood” amendment ballot initiative in Mississippi, it’s clear that abortion law in the state would continue to be dictated by the federal 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized most abortions. A state ballot initiative will not supersede federal law.
Opponents of the amendment say it raises complicated questions about what would become of frozen embryos that remain after a woman undergoes in vitro fertilization. This will pass in a landslide, but is likely to be plunged into a protracted federal court battle.
n Eminent domain – The political debate over eminent domain laws in Mississippi reached fever pitch in 2009 as part of the national backlash against a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding government authority to take private land. Since the high court ruled 5-4 in 2005 in Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., that the city had authority to take homes for a private development project, 43 states have enacted laws aimed at neutering eminent domain. So will Mississippi voters.
But make no mistake – the net impact of the ballot initiatives will be increased Republican voter turnout.

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