March 4, 2009
JACKSON -- The House and Senate killed their voter-ID bills Tuesday in a dispute over whether to also make it easier to vote before Election Day.
However, voter-ID advocates say they''ll keep pushing for a law to require people to show a government-issued photograph of themselves when they vote.
This can be done through a bill passed by the Legislature or a proposed constitutional amendment for voters to approve.
Republicans are trying to get a proposition on the ballot next year to let voters bypass the Legislature and get a voter-identification requirement in the state constitution.
If enough petition signatures -- about 85,000 -- are gathered this year, the constitutional initiative would be on the November 2010 ballot for voters to ratify or reject.
"I do believe with the initiative out there that the people will be the best ones to judge what we need to do with voter ID," said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus.
However, Senate Elections Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, didn''t rule out the House and Senate eventually passing a law requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls. But he noted putting it on the ballot for voters to ratify is a valid alternative if the Legislature doesn''t act.
"We will do it the legislative way or the people''s way," Burton said.
A House-passed bill for voter ID and other election reforms was killed Tuesday in the Senate Elections Committee. A Senate-passed bill died as well in the House Apportionment and Elections Committee.
Senate Republicans said they don''t like measures the Democratic-dominated House put in its bill that would loosen the state''s voter-registration and early-voting laws to encourage more people to participate in elections. In addition, the bill would''ve made it easier for people convicted of nonviolent crimes to get their voting rights restored.
GOP Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant -- who heads the Senate -- said legislation should only require voter ID.
"It was part of my campaign as lieutenant governor and has been the cornerstone in my legislative agenda for the past two years. However, I am not willing to back down from my Republican conservative principles and accept early voting and other provisions that compromise fair elections," Bryant said in a statement he issued Tuesday.
He wanted the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 2548, the GOP-backed measure to require voters show a driver''s license or other photo ID at the polls.
Republicans for years have been pushing for the ID requirement as a way to curb fraud at the polls.
The House bill included a photo-ID provision along with provisions to 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''ve let all voters cast ballots in the 20 days leading up to the Saturday before election day.
There are 31 states offering some sort of early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
House Bill 1533 would''ve also allowed people to register to vote up to three days before an election. Current law requires registration at least one month before election day.
Tuesday was the deadline for House and Senate committees to consider bills that had passed the other chamber.
After years of voter-ID bills being killed in the Legislature, a proposed constitutional initiative was filed last month with the secretary of state to add such a measure to the Mississippi Constitution. It calls for requiring a government-issued photo identification to vote.
Petitions must be circulated to get enough people to sign by next February for putting the measure on the ballot.
"Now the chore for us is to get the 85,000 signatures needed," said Chism, who co-sponsored the voter-ID bill that passed the House last month.
"This will be Mississippi Republicans'' campaign for the coming year. It''s going to be our theme," he said.
The constitutional proposition would likely pass, but the public debate surrounding it could be tumultuous, said Senate Constitution Chairman Bennie Turner, D-West Point.
"I think it would be an emotional issue and a divisive issue," he said.
He noted how a voter-ID requirement reminds blacks of when they had their rights to vote denied in the past century when Mississippi required them to pay poll taxes or pass literacy tests.
"You have to understand the history behind voting and the right to vote -- particularly as it pertains to African-Americans," said Turner, who is black.
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.
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