Senate Committee Passes Voter Reform

By: Jon Kalahar Email
By: Jon Kalahar Email

Backed by the secretary of state's office, a comprehensive Mississippi voting reform bill passed its first hurdle Monday when the Senate elections committee moved it to the Senate floor for a vote.

The secretary of state's plan includes voter re-registration, more training for election workers, and something called "no excuse voting". But the bill doesn't include voter ID.

"We have in Mississippi 30 percent of our counties who have more people registered to vote than are breathing, so we have problem," said Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi secretary of state.

If Hosemann gets his wish, re-registration of Mississippi's voters will automatically take place during this year's presidential election, but anyone who doesn't vote then will have two years after that to re-register.

"The vote is the absolute key to everybody having integrity and picking up the actual numbers of voters that go the poll," Hosemann said.

Hosemann said he will create a new training for poll workers and election commissioners, as well as a "no excuse voting" period 15 days prior to any election for voters to cast their ballot in person at the circuit clerk's office and hopefully reduce absentee ballot fraud.

"In Hinds County, I don't think we have a problem," said Barbara Dunn, Hinds County circuit clerk.

Dunn said she is happy with the current system of voting. She says nothing is perfect, but things like purging the voting rolls are done every year by her election commission.

"The rolls are purged all the time," Dunn said. "I have and you have, if you live in Hinds County, excellent election commissioners. That's their job and that's what they do."

Voter ID is not a part of this bill. It would come up later in the session as a part of its own legislation, but the secretary of state says voter ID is something that the public wants.

Hosemann calls it an issue used to divide Mississippians.

"Everybody knows you have identification in today's world and it's time to get past that hurdle in Mississippi," said Hosemann.

"I don't know how many times it's come up in the legislature, it has never passed," said Dunn. "Regardless of what, the list is this long of things you can have, but people don't want that."

District Judge Allen Pepper ruled last year to create a voter identification law in Mississippi. That ruling was appealed.

Hosemann said arguments will be heard Mar. 6 before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans regarding voter ID, as well as closing party primaries here in the state.

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