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Victim of voter fraud hoping for ID ballot passage

Next November, Brookhaven’s Jennifer Jackson plans to march downto her polling place and vote in favor of a voter ID initiativethat will appear on the 2011 ballot.

There are plenty of arguments against and in favor of requiringvoters to show photo identification before they vote, but fewpeople have experienced a voter ID crisis quite like Jackson.

In a particular election in the late 1990s, she arrived at theprecinct to discover that, somehow, she had already voted. And sohad her father, Don Jackson, who had been dead for a decade.

“I was so appalled. I heard voter fraud happened, but ithappened to me,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s ordeal began because of a mix-up in the voter rolls -she had moved across town and her address had not been updated.

Jackson had to go to the courthouse to vote because of themistake, and when she arrived and got ready to make her mark, shewas told she had already voted. She claimed she was “the realJennifer Jackson” and produced her driver’s license, but officialsalready had a record of her voting earlier in the day.

“They showed me where I had initialed my name. I checked to seeif my dead daddy, who had been dead for 10 years, had voted, and hehad also voted,” Jackson said.

Jackson had to fill out an affidavit to vote that year. Shenever discovered who had voted in her – or her late father’s -place.

“It’s still a mystery. I don’t guess it ever got solved,” shesaid. “I don’t even know if my vote counted that year.”

There was nothing Jackson could do but wonder for the next 10years.

In 2008, when the voter ID issue came back into Mississippipolitics hot and heavy, she decided to share her story in a letterto District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. The Brookhaven senator passedthe information on to Mississippi Secretary of State DelbertHosemann, who gave Jackson a call to find out more and has sinceused her example to drum up support for a voter ID initiative.

It worked.

A long process of gathering signatures to support such aninitiative, spearheaded mostly by Republicans, ended earlier thisweek when Hosemann’s office announced 131,678 verified signatureshad been collected. The number was approximately 40,000 more thanneeded to place the issue on the 2011 ballot.

Republicans have led the charge in calling for voter ID, sayingthe measure is necessary to clear up recurring voter fraud likethat experienced by Jackson. They point out that many transactions- from writing checks to renting movies – requiresidentification.

State Democrats have shown the most opposition to voter ID -particularly members of the Black Caucus in the Legislature -claiming that requiring identification at the polls coulddisenfranchise some voters. They fret specifically about the proofrequirements intimidating older black voters who lived throughsegregation and remember the prohibiting measures enacted againsttheir race in the days of Jim Crow.

Despite the oft-quoted battle of principles and politics thatswamps the voter ID debate, members of both parties in LincolnCounty are behind the initiative.

“Jennifer’s story is just an example that voter fraud exists -it’s alive and well,” said Hyde-Smith, a Democrat. “There are partsof this state that have more registered voters than there arepeople even living there. I think voter ID will clean up a lot ofelections.”

Mike Byrne, the Democratic chairman of the county electioncommission, deals with voting and voter registration on a weeklybasis. He favors voter ID, too.

“I’m all for it,” Byrne said. “There is a lot of dishonestygoing on, and hopefully this will cut out some of it.”

Lincoln County’s Democratic circuit clerk, Terry Lynn Watkins,said the only problem she could foresee with voter ID was that theelderly might have a hard time getting out to secure anidentification card. Guidelines stipulate those without an ID canobtain free identification from the state.

“I cannot think of an instance where it would disenfranchiseanybody,” Watkins said. “We have to show ID practically foreverything now.”

For Republicans, there’s no question on voter ID.

Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman John Roberts was one ofthe worker bees who helped make the initiative possible, renting abooth at collecting signatures at the 2009 Ole Brook Festival andferrying the petitions around Brookhaven when people called him andrequested it.

“I never had anyone turn me down,” he said. “When people saw it,everyone signed it. It’s just a fair deal. You catch an airplane,rent a car or make a reservation for a room, you have to have anID. Voting is a much greater privilege than doing something likethat.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, recalled her pastas a poll worker, saying that even then many voters would approachthe sign-in book with ID in hand, even though it wasn’trequired.

“The voters wanted this a long time ago,” she said. “I can’timagine it won’t pass, and hopefully from then on out we won’t havepeople in the cemetery voting anymore.”