Mississippi Senate race muddles voter ID debate

When Mississippi voters arrive at the polls for Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary runoff, they’ll be required to show a driver’s license or other government issued photo ID – the result of a new state voter ID law that went into effect for the June 3 primaries.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi – a staunch opponent of the voter ID requirement – was ready to spend June 3 fielding complaints from voters turned away at the polls. As it turns out, they received no such complaints, an ACLU employee told CBS News.

“99.9% of Mississippians cast their ballot by showing an ID. Only 300 voters out of 400,000 voters failed to return within seven days with a photo ID to verify their affidavit ballot,” commended Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican.

“Mississippians came together and showed that we, as a state, could implement a voting requirement without federal intervention or oversight,” Hosemann continued.

But boasting of Mississippi’s successful primary has some limitations: primary voting is typically concentrated in affluent areas, turnout is very low, and primary voters are also more likely to have an ID.

Meanwhile, Mississippi has the largest percentage of blacks in the nation and a long, sordid history involving African-American voting rights. And the implementation of a law that has been cited by critics as a modern day poll tax most likely to suppress minorities has the state now standing out as a test case.

Twenty-two states have rolled out new voting restrictions since 2010 – 15 of those states are facing stricter voting rules for the first time this year – and with the exception of Rhode Island, all voter ID legislation has been introduced by Republican-majority legislatures.

Despite critics’ warnings of voter suppression, George Flaggs, the African-American Democratic mayor of Vicksburg, Miss., is a proponent of the state’s new voter ID law.

“At this point in time, I don’t think we should spend a lot of time trying to discourage voters from participating in the electoral process by continuing to talk about it. We should be trying to enhance opportunity for people trying to get an ID at a much earlier age,” Flagg told CBS News, adding that he voted in favor of the law during his 26 years serving in the Mississippi legislature.

CBS News
6/23/14