Voter ID has become a contentious issue throughout the nation. Most Republicans see it as a necessary means of combating voter fraud. Most Democrats say it unfairly targets minorities and other Democratic-leaning constituencies and is designed to discourage them from voting.
It was debated for nearly 20 years and never got through the legislative process in Mississippi, a state with a history of race-based voter discrimination that makes the topic especially volatile. But in 2011 Mississippi voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that made producing a government-issued photo ID at the polls the constitutional law of the state – pending U.S. Justice Department approval.
Nineteen months later, that decision is still pending.
Whatever one’s perspective on voter ID, this delay – now nearly two full election cycles – is unreasonable. As the front page story in today’s paper notes, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann submitted the required guidelines of how the state planned to administer the law in January 2012. The state should have had an answer, one way or the other, by now.
On March 21 of this year, the Justice Department made a sweeping request for all correspondence related to voter ID between and among legislators, elected officials, state employees and the public. State officials understandably wanted a clearer delineation of the time frame, and presumably breadth, of what was desired. The secretary of state’s and attorney general’s offices say they’re working on collecting the information the Justice Department wants, and when they get it, the DOJ will have 60 days to respond.
Of course a response doesn’t necessarily mean a definitive decision.
The Justice Department’s role is required by the Voting Rights Act. It’s supposed to determine if there is any discriminatory intent or effect in any election-related laws passed by Mississippi and other states with histories of discrimination that come under the federal law’s “pre-clearance” provision.
All indications are that Mississippi officials have done what they are supposed to do and are due a more expeditious response.
If the law is deemed in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the state and the citizens who approved it need to know that so that a decision can be made on any appeal. If it’s cleared, the state needs to get on with implementation. The reasonable period for a decision one way or the other has long since elapsed.
Should the U.S. Justice Department approve Mississippi's new voter ID law under the federal Voting Rights Act?