JACKSON – (AP) Mississippi voters won't have to show a driver's license or other photo identification to cast ballots in the March 13 presidential and congressional primaries, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has said.
Hosemann, a Republican and the state's chief elections officer, said Mississippi has not yet sought the required federal approval for a voter ID state constitutional amendment that voters approved this past November. Because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, the U.S. Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., must approve any changes to the state's voting procedures.
Legislators are working on a law to implement voter identification, including ways to pay for photo ID for any person of voting age who doesn't have a driver's license. Until legislators are finished, Hosemann said the state can't seek federal approval.
Hosemann spoke last Monday at a forum sponsored by the Capitol press corps and Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government. He said he hopes Mississippi's voter ID plan will receive federal approval by mid-September so it can be in place for the presidential election in November.
“If we haven't got it by September, we're not going to have it'' for the presidential race, Hosemann said.
He said any voter who doesn't have a government-issued photo ID needs time to get one. He said his office is trying to figure out ways to find people in that situation, particularly the elderly and those with physical disabilities.
The voter ID amendment on the ballot last November was approved by 62 percent of voters. Mississippi's population is 59 percent white, 37 percent black and 2.7 percent Hispanic. Election results show the ID amendment, Initiative 27, fared better in predominantly white counties and worse in predominantly black counties.
The Mississippi NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union have both said they'll ask the Justice Department to reject voter ID, contending that the requirement could disproportionately create difficulties for poor and minority voters.
Supporters of voter ID say it will help prevent people from masquerading as others to cast ballots. After Hosemann's speech Monday, a reporter asked him what he'd say to opponents of voter ID.
“They need to get over it,'' Hosemann said.
He said the secretary of state's office held nine public hearings about ballot initiatives before last November's election, and lawmakers have argued about voter ID for years. He also said the U.S. Supreme Court has declared voter ID to be constitutional, based on cases from other states.
“The majority rules,'' Hosemann said. “We need to get on with it.''
Mississippi Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole, who attended Hosemann's speech, said he's concerned about what kind of plan legislators will adopt for voter ID, including how much money they'll set aside to buy cameras for circuit clerks to take photos of people who don't have any other government-issued photo ID.
“The devil's in the details, and there are a lot of devilish details involving voter ID in Mississippi,'' Cole said.
In December, the Justice Department rejected a voter ID law in South Carolina, another southern state with a history of troubled race relations. The department said tens of thousands of minorities might lack the right kind of photo ID and, as a consequence, might not be able to vote.