Despite voters’ OK, ID amendment far from done

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, April 15, 2012

The old saying is the “devil is in the details.”

     So despite a more than 60 percent approval by Mississippians last year for a constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, state lawmakers and election officials could still have a “devil” of a time getting the controversial measure enacted.

     Following voter approval of the ID amendment in last year’s general election, state lawmakers are now tasked with formally creating a voter ID law and dealing with the details of how it will work.

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     What kind of photo ID will be acceptable for voting? How and where can people who don’t have photo identification get free, state-issued ID cards? What will be the procedures for dealing with people who show up at polling places, but don’t have the necessary ID?

     None of those questions have simple solutions.

     The state House of Representatives is currently waiting to take up a voter ID bill that was approved by the state Senate last week. Changes by House lawmakers would likely send the measure to conference committee.

     “We’ve got a long way to go,” lamented District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven.

      Assuming passage by the Mississippi Legislature, the final arbiter for the voter ID amendment could still be the U.S. Department of Justice. Because of the Voting Rights Act, that federal agency must approve any voting-related changes in Mississippi and in other states covered by the law.

     And therein lies the rub.

     Texas and South Carolina have seen their voter ID laws rejected by the department. That fact leaves Mississippi’s chances of passing muster at DOJ unclear at best.

     Of course, as evidenced by the Senate debate last week, any discussion of voter ID brings with it the familiar arguments for or against the measure.

     Proponents of voter ID maintain that performing just about any routine task, from renting a movie to driving a car, requires someone to have and often show valid identification. They maintain that should also be the case with voting, one of our most sacred rights as American citizens.

     Opponents continue to recall days of old when black citizens were denied the right to vote. They contend that voter ID requirements could bring repeats of those days for minority voters and also older residents.

     Further in opposition, they claim there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could be remedied by impending voter ID. Proponents assert that regardless of that proof, there is no harm in the state tightening its voting rules and regulations.

     A similar song will surely be heard in the House as lawmakers there take up the measure at some point in the future.

     Currie said the voter ID battle won’t be over until the “fat lady sings.” At this point, unfortunately, she may not even be warming up.