Most Minority Voters Rejected Miss. Voter ID Bill, Study Finds

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By Anthony Advincula

While a majority of Mississippi voters approved a bill last November to show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot, more than 75 percent of the state’s minority population voted to reject the measure, according to a new study by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR).

The study, released this week, shows that voter preferences for the bill, which amends the state constitution, are polarized along racial lines. The findings suggest that the issue is likely to further inflame an ongoing debate about voting rights laws across the country.

The bill passed with 62 percent support. Among those who favored the bill, approximately 83 percent were white, according to LCCR’s analysis.

The latest census data shows that about 59 percent of Mississippi’s population is white, 37 percent black, 0.9 percent Asian, and 2.7 percent Latino.

“With over three-fifths of voters saying yes to the ID bill, it is tempting to conclude that most Mississippians favor tighter voting regulations,” said Russell Weaver, the report’s main author and a researcher for LCCR’s Voting Rights Project. “But it does not matter whether it is a majority or not because it puts minorities in a worse position.”

The study further shows, Weaver says, that the state’s minority voters perceive that the voter ID bill will have a “disproportionate and adverse impact” on them.

“Our analysis gives us a direct indication of what the state likes and what the minority population likes. In the minds of minority citizens—especially those who do not possess the forms of identification deemed acceptable for the purpose of voting—this initiative will negatively affect their voting rights,” said Bob Kengle, co-director of LCCR’s Voting Rights Project, during a telephonic media briefing on Tuesday.

The bill, known as Initiative 27, the study says, was put on the ballot “as a result of direct, not representative, democracy,” which means that it went to a statewide vote through attaining a sufficient number of valid signatures or citizen petition, which was largely pushed by Republicans in the state.

Mississippi State Senator Joey Fillingane and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, both Republicans, sponsored Initiative 27.

The state legislature is currently working on the details to implement the new voter ID law, but it faces significant hurdles.

Mississippi is one of nine states in the country that is covered by Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 5 requires pre-clearance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) before making changes to voting rights laws, because of a legacy of racial discrimination in those states. The DOJ will review Mississippi’s voter ID measure to see if it has a “retrogressive effect” of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or minority group.

“It’s going to be pretty interesting to see how the DOJ would look at the Mississippi initiative,” said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law. “I’m sure its decision would not just be based on how many people voted, but rather how people voted.”

Gaskins said U.S. citizens should be able to vote at the polls, regardless of whether or not they can present a photo ID.

“We should just recognize the person’s humanity and allow [him or her] to exercise his or her right to vote, rather than putting [up] unnecessary barriers,” she said.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann told media that he was confident that the Justice Department would be in favor of the state’s voter ID bill, because not only is it constitutional, but also it would prevent voter fraud. Opponents of the bill, like the NACCP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, however, said that Hosemann did not substantially address whether the measure will put minority voters at a disadvantaged position.

Kengle expressed optimism that the Justice Department will deny Mississippi’s voter ID law.
“Two things: it is clearly retrogressive, and it has a discriminating purpose,” he said.

With the passage of the bill, Mississippi joins several other states in moving to enact voter ID laws. Last year, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — states that previously had no photo-ID requirements at the polls — amended their state constitutions to enact strict photo ID laws. The Department of Justice, however, denied South Carolina’s request for clearance of its voter ID law, stating that it is discriminatory as the state’s data showed that non-white voters comprised 30.4 percent of the state’s registered voters, but 34.2 of them lacked government-issued photo ID.

Gaskins of the Brennan Center said that the most common reasons why citizens may lack government-issued photo ID relate to the economy and age.

“Renewing a driver’s license or state ID requires an additional cost. With our current recession, it can be an issue,” she said. “Also, those who are 65 years old and above usually don’t drive and they don’t see the need for a government-issued ID.”

Disparities in access to a car, the LCCR study suggests, also could explain why minorities may not need a driver’s license. The LCCR study found that about 11 percent of Mississippi’s non-white voters do not have access to a car, compared to about 2 percent of white voters in the state.

A recent report of the Brennan Center for Justice, titled “Voting Law Changes in 2012.” also found that “photo ID laws exclude large swaths of the electorate, since 11 percent of citizens (more than 21 million individuals) -- and an even greater percentage of low-income, minority, young and older citizens — do not have state-issued photo ID.”

Nationally, 25 percent of African-American voters — or 5.5 million individuals —have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white voters, according to the Brennan Center.

“We perceived that there’s a problem in this initiative,” said Tanya Clay House, LCCR’s public policy director. “This has been done intentionally to disenfranchise a certain population.”

New America Media granted permission to reprint this article.

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