September 20, 2012 10:18:49 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi's photo voter identification law may survive legal challenges because the state has made plans to provide free ID cards in many locations, the secretary of state said Wednesday.
Republican Delbert Hosemann told lawmakers he expects the U.S. Justice Department to reject Mississippi's law after reviewing it under the Voting Rights Act.
"It's likely that the state of Mississippi will end up in court," Hosemann said.
Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, said Hood expects a response from the Justice Department in October. Because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, the Voting Rights Act requires the state to get federal approval for any changes to election laws.
Hosemann reiterated that voter ID won't be required for the November presidential election. He said he wants plenty of time to contact voters who need identification.
Hosemann and Hood have already agreed to hire an outside lawyer to take the case into court. Hood is reviewing a request to hire lawyers from Ridgeland-based Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC.
Lawmakers tucked $395,000 for lawyers and $200,000 for expert witnesses into Hosemann's current budget, expecting a lawsuit.
Hosemann said his office has made provisions to offer free photo identifications at circuit clerk offices in each county courthouse, including looking up and verifying birth certificates on the spot. He also said he's negotiating to provide free rides to courthouses for people without transportation. Mississippi also plans to accept some college student identifications.
Hosemann said those provisions should help Mississippi prevail in court even when Texas lost a voter ID case.
"We will have some really good things that are not in the Texas case," he said
Hosemann said he didn't have a cost estimate for those implementation provisions, but should be ready to discuss it by the time the Legislature convenes in 2013.
He also said his office would put forth voter ID rules by year's end. Hosemann's office has hired two contract attorneys to work on the issue.
Hood told lawmakers earlier this week that his office still hasn't found a case of voter impersonation in Mississippi that's been prosecuted. But Hosemann said it's time for opponents to stop claiming that the law is an unnecessary burden that would block poor and minority voters from casting ballots.
"The people of Mississippi have decided whether it's relevant or not," Hosemann said, citing the 2011 voter ID referendum that was approved by 62 percent of voters. "This continuing argument about whether we should have voter ID was settled at the polling place."
That contention found agreement from several Republican lawmakers.
"This is going to go through at some point," said House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian. "We're all under a mandate from about 62 percent or 63 percent of the voters to proceed."