by Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi’s top elections official said Tuesday that he has given the federal government proposed rules for how the state intends to carry out a voter identification law that is in limbo.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s submission to the U.S. Justice Department is part of the state’s process of seeking federal approval of the law that would require every voter to show a driver’s license or other photo ID at the polls.
The law can’t take effect without clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court. It’s unclear when, or how, the department will respond. Hosemann started seeking approval several months ago.
“Our agency is proposing procedures to ensure every eligible voter who does not currently have acceptable photo ID will be able to obtain an ID easily and free of charge,” Republican Hosemann said in a news release Tuesday.
Any voter who lacks ID could get one free from a circuit clerk, he said. Each of the 82 counties has at least one circuit clerk’s office; a few have two.
The secretary of state’s office also obtained an agreement allowing circuit clerks to verify birth records with the state Department of Health, at no cost to a voter who needs ID. Critics have said this wouldn’t help voters who were born at home or in other states.
Hosemann said any voter who needs a photo ID also could get a free ride to the circuit clerk’s office, through an agreement his office reached with the state Department of Transportation.
Mississippi voters in November 2011 approved a state constitutional amendment to require photo ID at the polls. Legislators passed a law in 2012 to enact the provisions.
Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, it needs federal approval for any election changes.
Supporters of voter ID say it would dissuade people from masquerading as others to vote. Critics say there’s scant evidence of that happening, and they frequently compare the ID requirement to poll taxes that used to be levied to prevent black voters, and some poor white voters, from casting ballots.
SECRETARY OF STATE PRESS RELEASE
JACKSON, Miss. — Proposed administrative rules for the new voter photo identification requirement in the State of Mississippi have been delivered to the United States Department of Justice for approval.
“These administrative rules reflect a comprehensive plan to implement Constitutional voter photo identification in Mississippi, once we receive preclearance from the Department of Justice or the federal courts,” explains Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. “Our Agency is proposing procedures to ensure every eligible voter who does not currently have acceptable photo ID will be able to obtain an ID easily and free of charge.
Under the proposed rules, any voter who lacks an acceptable photo ID may obtain a free voter photo ID card from a Mississippi Circuit Clerk’s Office by presenting the same identification materials accepted when an individual registers to vote under the federal Help America Vote Act.
The Secretary of State’s Office has entered into an agreement with the Department of Vital Statistics to allow Circuit Clerks to verify birth records of voters who cannot provide these materials, at no cost to the voter. The Secretary of State’s Office also has entered into an agreement with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to utilize existing transportation services to provide free transportation for voters who need a free voter ID card but lack transportation to the Circuit Clerk’s Office.
Over 99% of citizens are within twenty (20) miles from a Mississippi Circuit Clerk’s Office. The Secretary of State makes the submission as Chief Elections Officer of the State of Mississippi and as an official authorized under State law.
A November 2012 General Election survey of 6,000 Mississippi voters showed only 0.8% of respondents reported having none of the eight forms of acceptable photo identification.
Copies of the submission letter to the United States Department of Justice and administrative rules may be found on the Secretary of State’s website at: http://sos.ms.gov/news_press_release.aspx?id=468.