Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Monday he’s trying to determine how many people in Mississippi lack the type of photo identification that might eventually be needed for voting. In last November’s election, 62 percent of Mississippi voters approved a constitutional amendment that would require voters to show a driver’s license or other form of photo ID at the polls. House Bill 921, passed this spring by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, aims to put the mandate into law. Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, it is required by the 1965 Voting Rights Act to get federal approval for any changes in election laws or procedures. Such approval is not guaranteed. In recent months, the Justice Department has rejected ID laws from Texas and South Carolina, amid concerns that they would dilute minority voting strength.
Hosemann and other supporters of voter ID say it will prevent people from masquerading as others to cast ballots. Opponents say there’s little evidence that such things are happening. Opponents also liken voter ID to poll taxes that were used for decades to suppress black citizens’ constitutional right to vote. To get past that comparison, supporters said that if ID cards are provided for free by the state, it’s not possible to draw parallels between an ID mandate and a poll tax. The Mississippi bill says anyone without proper identification can get a state-issued photo card at no cost, though no money was set aside to make them during the fiscal year that begins July 1.