Voter ID

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 13, 2009

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s delegation in the state House of Representatives split its vote this week over the contentious issue of voter ID.

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Rep. Warner McBride voted for the bill while Rep. Joe Gardner voted against it. The bill, known as the “Election Reform Act,” passed 77-44 Wednesday.

McBride, knowing that many constituents are concerned over the issue, contacted The Panolian to report the House action.

McBride said the final vote came after four and a half hours of debate and after legislators jostled over adding last-minute amendments to the bill. He said a legislator has since introduced a Motion to Reconsider, a procedural move that means the bill may come back for a second vote.

“I believe, if it comes back up, it will pass again,” McBride said.

Mississippi’s state legislators have battled for years over a bill that would combat vote fraud at the polls.

Democrats in the House have been hesitant to support a photo ID while Republicans in the Senate have continually pushed for it. The result has been dead bills and no election reform.

Every state that touches Mississippi requires some form of voter ID at the polls, but Mississippians are required only to give their name in order to cast a vote.

A House bill introduced in January would have allowed voters to use a credit card or utility bill, among more than 20 permissible documents, as proof of their identity. McBride was named as one of 11 co-authors of the original House bill and said Thursday he attached his name to a later bill as well.

During the current session, the state Senate passed a voter ID bill that requires a photo ID. Sen. Nolan Mettetal, who represents Panola County, voted for the Senate bill.

Regarding the newest House bill, McBride said the strongest provision is that a voter must provide a valid photo ID before casting a ballot. Seven forms of ID are allowed and include a drivers license, student ID, or a state-issued Mississippi Voter Card that is provided free of charge.

The newest House bill also includes an exemption for voters who were born before August 6, 1944. The Senate version did not include an exemption.

The exemption for older voters is meant as a compromise for elderly black voters who could feel intimidated due to past discrimination at the voting polls. That allowance was also meant to pacify the Black Caucus in the House, but Caucus members still voted against the final version.

Gardner, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, is a member of the Black Caucus.

Gardner said in 2007, when he was a candidate for the House seat, that he would support voter ID, as well as a photo requirement. He also said he was concerned about privacy issues.

Some black legislators, objecting to the requirement for a photo I.D., removed their names from the final House bill, The Clarion-Ledger reported.

Republicans in the House led an effort to pass the bill with the photo ID requirement, the newspaper also reported.

“I can’t say for sure how much fraud is out there, but I know this bill would ensure the right person is voting,” said Ronald McMinn, who chairs the non-partisan Panola County Election Committee.

“I’m all for it. I think it’s something we needed,” he also said.

Other provisions of the House bill would allow 15 days of early voting; allow voter registration up to three days before the election; and restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentence.

McBride agreed that restoring voting rights to felons is a controversial allowance. Felons must petition legislators to restore their voting rights.

“If they complete their sentence, I really don’t have a problem (with voting) if they’ve served their time,” he said.