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GOP assisting voter ID petition

Mississippi’s chief Republican hit the road Monday, kicking offa statewide speaking tour to promote work on the voter ID ballotinitiative with a stop in Brookhaven and several other SouthwestMississippi locations.

Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White said the effortto place a photographic voter ID initiative on the ballot in afuture statewide election started by District 41 Sen. JoeyFillingane earlier this year now enjoys the full backing of thestate Republican party. The party has set aside $150,000 to payextra staff who will devote themselves solely to promoting theinitiative and gathering the more than 90,000 signatures necessaryto place the option on the ballot.

“We didn’t think it was possible to achieve this initiativewithout it being run like a campaign,” White said Monday. “We’vegot an apparatus in all 82 counties, and we’re utilizing ournetwork of leadership, but we’re also raising money to bring onextra staff to make sure this gets done.”

White’s and other Republicans’ primary goal is to gather thenecessary signatures – which must be verified by each county’scircuit clerk – from the state’s five former congressionaldistricts by Oct. 9.

If they meet the two-month deadline, the initiative could beplaced before voters next November in the 2010 congressionalelection. If not, the initiative will have to wait.

“It’s a time-sensitive matter,” White said. “Ideally, I’d liketo get it on the ballot by 2010, but realistically, I don’t know ifthat’s possible. In the last four weeks, we’ve gathered20,000-25,000 verified signatures. I think it’s very possible if wegot them organized right in two months. But to get them all in andverified and to the secretary of state’s office, that may becutting it close.”

Missing all the election deadlines would be just fine with stateDemocrats, who have fought and strove successfully to kill voter IDfor years. Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Jamie Franksreleased a statement Monday saying Republicans are “losing touch”with Mississippians.

“The State of Mississippi is suffering from record unemployment,deep cuts to our health care systems and exorbitant drop-out ratesamong high schoolers … and the Republicans are focusing theirefforts on Voter ID?” he said. “People here don’t care aboutpoliticians’ political posturing; people care about their own jobs,putting food on the table and making sure they can afford to go tothe doctor when they get sick.”

Executive Director Sam Hall’s comments accompanied Franks. Hesaid it is “odd to us that the Republicans are doing this,considering that it was Republican senators under the direction ofRepublican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant who killed a comprehensive votingbill that included not only voter ID but also early votinginitiatives.”

White addressed the death of House Bill 1533 – at the hands ofFillingane and other Republican senators, no less – as basically anecessary evil.

The bill would have created the Election Reform Act of 2009 andincluded voter ID and several other voting reforms, but itcontained several Democrat-based reforms Republicans said wouldhave muddled the registration and voting process, including themixture of late registration up to three days before the electionand early voting. Republicans also scoffed at Democrats’stipulation that felons be allowed to re-register.

“Some Senate representatives – and I have to take their word onthis – said it was either pass it like it is or kill it,” Whitesaid. “I believe I would have had to kill it, too.”

White said this year’s attempt at voter ID was as close as theLegislature would ever come to passing a “clean” bill on thesubject, and he believes that legislative body will never come asclose again. That is why, he said, the state Republican party hasramped up its efforts in support of the ballot initiative. It, hebelieves, will be successful.

“We’ve done a direct mail to about 90,000 households, and we’vehad a 10-12 percent return,” White said. “That’s way more than theusual, which is around 3-4 percent. That tells me if we can everget it on to the ballot, it will pass.”

A copy of the voter ID petition, and information on how tovolunteer to help Republicans, may be found online atMississippians for Voter ID at www.ms4voterid.com or at the stateparty’s Web site at www.msgop.org.

White warned that photographic voter ID would be a huge steptoward vanquishing voter fraud in the state, but would not be acure-all.

“Our elections will only be as fair as the people running them,”he said. “This is just one cog in the wheel for having a goodelection system.”