Following one of the hottest Senate debates of recent weeks, Mississippi's constitutional amendment to require would-be voters to prove their identities at the polls, inched closer to realization this morning.
More or less a technicality because voters gave it the thumbs up in a statewide ballot question last fall, HB 921 is the legislative vehicle needed to implement the controversial law. The measure, already approved in the House, passed the Senate 34-14 and now heads to a conference committee.
Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, called the effort "evil" and questioned the Christian values of its legislative backers to which Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, a supporter of voter ID, vehemently objected.
"It's wrong," Jordan said. "I don't care how you dress it up, put clean clothes on it. It's Jim Crow."
The U.S. Department of Justice has to sign off on changes to Mississippi's voting laws, and it remains unclear how the DOJ will evaluate Mississippi's law. In 2005, Republican President George W. Bush's administration let Indiana's voter ID law stand. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state's law in 2008.
Under the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama, however, the DOJ blocked South Carolina's attempt to pass a version of voter ID. Obama's justice department also blocked Texas' Republican-drawn redistricting map, arguing the plan is unfair to Latinos.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, defended the bill, saying that it was not "some kind of mischief" to turn back the clock on civil rights gains for blacks. He noted that the Mississippi Senate is more diverse than it's ever been. McDaniel, however, acknowledge the irony that resistance to voter suppression and intimidation efforts led to more blacks winning elected office in the state.
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who drafted the fall voter ID initiative, said voter ID is needed since evidence of voter fraud exists from as recently as 2007. During the 2007 Democratic primary election for circuit clerk in Jefferson Davis County, the losing candidate, Clint Langley, challenged the election results in court amid allegations of voter fraud.
Circuit Court Judge Forrest Johnson invalidated those results original results after uncovering 26 irregularities, which included one vote recorded in the name of a man who'd died and another in the name of a person who was hospitalized in another county.
Sen. Kenneth Wayne Jones, D-Canton, offered a word of caution for supporters of initiatives that limit voting rights.
"We beat you every time. We're gonna beat you this time," Jones said.