Voter ID issue on Nov. 8 ballot

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mississippians could choose on Nov. 8 tochange voting laws to require picture identification in order tocast a ballot.

    On the ballot, Initiative 27 asks, “Should the MississippiConstitution be amended to require a person to submit governmentissue photo identification in order to vote?”

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    One of three constitutional amendments facing voters Nov. 8,Initiative 27 was the only one determined to have any cost directlyassociated with it. Analysis by the Mississippi Legislative BudgetOffice concluded the initiative would cost the Department of PublicSafety nearly $1.5 million in lost revenue.

    Under the initiative’s provisions, the Department of Public Safetymust supply photo identification cards to those who cannot affordthem.

    These photo identification cards differ from driver’s licenses. Theinitiative does not make provision for driver’s licenses to beoffered free of charge.

    Initiative 27 has not garnered the kind of organized, widespreadopposition that Initiative 26 and its definition of personhoodhas.

    Arguments offered by opponents have said the ID requirements amountto a modern day poll tax. In an informational brochure released bythe Mississippi Secretary of State containing arguments for andagainst the initiative, Sue Harmon of made such anargument.

    “Those who do not have the documents required to obtain an ID willhave to spend money to get documents such as birth certificates,”Harmon said in the brochure. “These documents are not free, so somepersons will be forced to ‘pay to vote.'”

    Local legislators and legislative candidates offered support forthe measure.

    They emphasized the need to prevent voter fraud through suchmeasures as voter identification.

    “You have to have an ID for most everything right now,” said BeckyCurrie, R-Brookhaven, District 92 representative. “Unless you havesomething to hide you shouldn’t have a problem showing ID.”

    Currie said rather than objecting to the idea, many voters arealready willing to show identification.

    “I’ve worked the polls before and had people pull their wallets outtrying to show ID,” she said.

    Currie’s Democratic challenger, Ken Dale Sullivan, agreed.

    “I believe we need to have fair and just elections,” Sullivan said.”I don’t think it’s going to disenfranchise anyone.”

    Sullivan said the bill could actually encourage voter turnout byproviding confidence in the electoral process.

    “I think if we make a move to show the voters the election is fairthen people may become more encouraged to go out and vote,” hesaid.

    Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, incumbent representative for District53, said he does not believe the identification requirement willprevent anyone from voting.

    “Any voter can seek to have a voter identification card made,” Moaksaid.

    Moak does believe, however, the presence of the initiative on theballot is largely a tactical move by Republicans.

    Moak said the issue of voter identification has been considered inthe Legislature for years.

    “We actually passed a version of this (in the House), but it waskilled in the Senate by Republican leaders to some surprise,” Moaksaid. “I believe that was a political move to get it on the ballotthis year and drive up turnout (by Republican voters).”

    In 2009, Senate Republicans cited features of the House bill suchas early voting provisions as motivating opposition to it.

    Moak also said the loss of the revenue to the Department of PublicSafety could be an issue in the legislative session.

    “We either have to cut the department by that amount or put thatamount in there,” Moak said.

    Moak expressed optimism concerning the resolution of the issue.

    “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a large amount of money,”Moak said. “I don’t think we’ll be cutting any funding to thatdepartment.”

    The initiative does allow several exceptions to its requirement.Those living in a state-licensed care facility would not berequired to show identification. Neither would voters with areligious objection to being photographed be required to presentidentification.

    If passed, the amendment would not require voters to submitidentification when registering to vote, only when casting aballot.