Mississippi Ballot Initiatives Part III: Voter ID

As you go to the polls this November 2nd, you will be asked to answer the following questions on your ballot:
Initiative 26:
Should the term “person” be defined to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof?
Initiative 31:
Should government be prohibited from taking private property by eminent domain and then transferring it to other persons?
Initiative 27:
Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to require a person to submit government issued photo identification in order to vote?
Last month, we discussed Personhood Defined, and in the July issue, Eminent Domain was discussed. In this final part of this three-part series, the issue of Voter ID is the topic.
Over the past decade, there have been rising concerns about the legitimacy of national and state elections. And for many decades, there have been reports of dead people, and even cartoon characters, voting in elections. In 2000, Florida accidently purged their voter rolls of people who had similar names as convicted felons. In 2005, New Jersey purged what they thought were duplications when it turned out that there were simply people with identical names, or the “Jr.” was omitted from the same name at the same address. Most of these reports ended being completely unfounded. But, the concern for election integrity is still on the minds of many dutiful citizens. The majority of these cases were resolved and classified as clerical errors, and not voter fraud as some have feared.
Mississippi’s Voter ID petition was sponsored by State Senator Joseph Edgar Fillingane (District 41) with financial backing from the Mississippi Republican Party. 17,857 signatures were required for the initiative to be placed on the ballot. 131,678 signatures were certified by the Mississippi Secretary of State in January of this year. If passed, the law would require any citizen to show government-issued photo identification before being allowed to vote. Anyone can still register to vote without a state-issued photo ID, but one must be presented to cast a ballot. If a citizen cannot afford an ID card, they can obtain one for free through the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. The agency has already raised concerns over the cost of issuing free ID cards to those who cannot afford them. They estimate a loss in annual revenue of $1.5 million.
There would still be some voters who would not be required to present an ID, including residents of a state-licensed care facility, and persons who, for religious reasons, refuse to have their photo taken. These will be required to vote by an affidavit ballot that is signed by others who can attest to the true identity of the voter. If you have a photo ID, but do not have it on the day of an election for any reason, you may also vote by affidavit. You will then have up to five days to present your ID to the Circuit Clerk’s office so your ballot can be submitted.
The main reason people support this law is to reduce voter fraud, which is actually very rare, and has never been extensive enough to alter the outcome of an election. Proponents say it is common sense to require identification to participate in an election. There are two kinds of fraud relating to elections. “Election fraud” is when poll-workers or other trusted election officials alter the results of an election by adding, changing, or destroying submitted ballots. “Voter fraud” is when a person votes in an election in which he or she is not qualified, either by not being a resident, or by not having the right to vote at all, such as with people who have been convicted of certain felonies or are under the age of 18. Another form of voter fraud is when candidates attempt to buy votes, as in the 2009 case in Benton County where an incumbent supervisor and a candidate for sheriff offered beer and small amounts of cash to voters who were willing to cast ballots in their favor. Some voters who took the bribes were acquitted, and the candidates lost their chance to be elected or to ever hold public office. Since the fraud was initiated by the candidates themselves, identification at the polls would not have prevented this. The situation in Madison County in 2008, however, depicts a serious situation where they had 123% more voters than they had residents over the age of 18. As it turned out, the dead or moved-away voters simply had not been purged from the rolls, and absentee ballots were the cause of other discrepancies, according to MS Attorney General. They did not determine that any dead or ineligible voter was casting votes in elections in the years previous to discovering this problem. According to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who is a supporter of this initiative, most voter fraud cases in Mississippi stem from clerical errors, absentee ballots or affidavit ballots; none of which can be solved through Voter ID. This is at the heart of why many people are against this initiative.
The opportunity for Mississippians to change their constitution is a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prepare for our state’s future success. As we go to vote this November, let us all remember the words of Daniel Webster: “[E]very elector is a trustee as well for others as himself and that every measure he supports has an important bearing on the interests of others as well as on his own.” See you at the polls!
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