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Compromise voter ID bill passes House, faces uncertain future




JACKSON â€" A polarized Mississippi House passed a voter-ID bill that in recent years has been blocked by Democrats worried it would be a burdensome requirement deterring people from casting ballots. 


However, the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-dominated Senate have differences to dicker over before a bill becomes law. 


“We will continue to have this fight,” said Rep Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the House manager of the bill, which also includes a measure making it easier to vote before election day. 


It’s a fight that will likely end in stalemate between the House and Senate, said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus. 


“It’s going nowhere. ... It’s probably going to die,” said Chism, co-sponsor of the photo-identification requirement the House attached to the election reform bill in a 63-58 vote. 


However, Senate Elections Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, was more hopeful the House and Senate can work out a compromise before the 2009 legislative session ends in April. The Senate passed a photo-voter ID bill last week. 


Burton pointed to the significance of getting a voter-ID bill through the House, where Senate-passed legislation has died in recent years. 


“That first step is the biggest,” Burton said.. 


After nearly five hours of wrenching debate Wednesday, the House of Representatives finally voted 77-44 for the Republican-pushed legislation to make people have a government-issued photo of themselves to ensure they’re not bogus voters. 


Republicans are pushing for the ID requirement as a way to curb fraud at the polls.  


The House deleted the bill’s original provision that allowed an ID be in various forms ranging from a state driver’s license to a utility bill. 


In a pitch to have something Democrats favor, House Bill 1533 also loosens up the state’s voter-registration and early-voting laws to encourage more people to participate in elections. In addition, the bill would make it easier for people convicted of nonviolent crimes to get their voting rights restored. 


The bill was originally introduced by black legislators as a compromise to pass a voter-ID bill as Republicans want and to open up the voting process as Democrats like. 


Weary of being hounded by the partisan and racial politics of the voter-ID issue, the House’s Democratic leadership backed the legislation without the photo requirement. However, 15 Democrats broke away from the 74-member majority Wednesday and sided with the 48 Republicans to pass the stricter voter-ID mandate. 


The House voter-ID bill angered some black lawmakers, who waged a filibuster in protest by demanding House clerks read aloud the bills that came up for passage. House rules require such bill readings if requested by one lawmaker. 


The House on Wednesday did approve a clause exempting people over age 65 from the ID requirement. This is aimed mainly at easing concerns for older blacks whose rights to vote were denied in the past century by requiring them to pay poll taxes or pass literacy tests. 


House Bill 1533 also would allow “no-excuses” early voting. Mississippians are now permitted to vote early only for specific reasons, such as being ill or out of town on election day. The bill would let all voters cast ballots in the 20 days leading up to the Saturday before election day. 


The bill also has a measure allowing people to register to vote up to three days before an election. Current law requires registration at least one month before election day. 


In addition, the bill would let convicted nonviolent felons vote if they’re one-time offenders who’ve completed their prison sentences and probation periods and have paid all their fines. Under current law, felons who lose their right to vote must get a bill passed by the Legislature to restore their suffrage. 


Of the 24 states that have a voter-ID requirement, seven states specify a photograph be shown to prove identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 


There are 31 states offering some sort of early voting, according to the NCSL. 


The Senate last week passed for the second time this session its voter-ID bill. It brought the bill back to strip out a provision exempting elderly people from the photo-ID requirement. 


This is how area representatives voted Wednesday on House Bill 1533 to require photo voter ID, allow no-excuses early voting and let people register to vote up to three days before election day. 


To read bills, follow their progress and see how legislators voted, go to the Mississippi Legislature’s Web site: The Web site also has live videocasts of House and Senate floor sessions.  




Roll Call 


How area representatives voted Wednesday on House Bill 1533 to require photo voter ID, allow no-excuses early voting and let people register to vote up to three days before election day: 




  • FOR: Gary Chism, R-Columbus; Jeff Smith, D-Columbus; Jim Beckett, R-Bruce; Donnie Bell, D-Fulton; Jimmy Puckett, D-Amory; Russ Nowell, D-Louisville; Dannie Reed, R-Ackerman. 


  • AGAINST: Esther Harrison, D-Columbus; Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville; David Gibbs, D-West Point; Reecy Dickson, D-Macon. 





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