By Jeff Amy
JACKSON – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Wednesday that Mississippi’s first election requiring photo identification reinforces his belief that the state no longer needs federal oversight to handle elections and redistricting.
The Republican released figures showing 513 Mississippians cast affidavit ballots June 3 because they lacked proper identification, with at least 177 returning later to show ID and get votes counted. Another 298 ballots were rejected because people did not return by the Tuesday deadline, and 13 were rejected for other reasons, such as voters not being registered. Three counties with 25 ballots among them had not reported by Wednesday what happened to those affidavits.
A total of 400,000 ballots were cast.
“We were very pleased with the numbers,” Hosemann told reporters. “Obviously they show Mississippi is able to conduct its own elections and Mississippians are able to show up with the constitutionally required documents.”
Mississippi’s law says voters can show one of 10 types of government-issued photo identification. For the past several months, people have been able to go to an election clerk’s office to get a free, state-issued voter ID card.
Lawmakers had squabbled about ID since the mid-1990s, with supporters saying it would prevent people from voting under others’ names and opponents saying there has been scant evidence of that type of fraud. Critics also said an ID requirement would disproportionately hurt minorities, the poor and older voters.
New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, a leading opponent of voter ID laws, had estimated that 48,000 Mississippians could have trouble obtaining photo identification. Hosemann dismissed that estimate Wednesday, saying he thought that less than 2,000 ID cards issued by clerks showed most Mississippians already had ID.
But Larry Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said people who otherwise may have voted stayed away.
“That doesn’t mean there weren’t a lot of people without IDs who didn’t vote,” he said, although he said such figures are hard to prove.
“I don’t think there’s any question that this is going to continue to be litigated around the country,” Norden said.
Hosemann said he knew of “no one” who had been denied the right to vote for lacking identification. At least one such case was reported in Pike County, which was chalked up to a poll worker’s mistake.
Mississippians approved a voter ID constitutional amendment in 2011, and legislators put the mandate into law in 2012. Until last summer, Mississippi and other states with a history of racial discrimination had to get federal approval for any changes to elections laws. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling erased that mandate and cleared the way for Mississippi to use its voter ID law, which had been awaiting Justice Department clearance.
Hosemann reiterated Wednesday that he opposed a return to preclearance, as some are seeking.
“Mississippi has proven itself in the last two years to be able to redistrict and conduct our elections,” he said.