Yesterday, Democrats in Congress unveiled the Voter Empowerment Act of 2012, legislation aimed at strengthening election procedures for voters. On the same day, Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant signed into law a bill mandating voters show photo ID before hitting the polls, a law that was passed by ballot referendum by 62 percent of voters.
While Mississippi Democrats were invited to join the governor’s signing ceremony, none joined. Similarly, no Republicans were present for the Congressional Democrats’ introduction of their voter bill. Both pieces of legislation will face challenges coming online. The intersection between what Democrats are attempting in Congress and what Republicans are attempting at the state level—in Mississippi and beyond—around voting shows a tragic collision from which democracy, citizens of color and many without wealth and resources will be the casualties.
Speaking about the Voter Empowerment bill he co-sponsored, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said, “Just six months from a presidential election and amid an unprecedented drive to impose new restrictions on who can vote in states across the country, Democrats will fight for the right to vote and for the integrity of our electoral system. This bill is a major step towards greater accountability and broader access.”
Using similar language, Mississippi Governor Bryant said the voter ID law “makes it easy to obtain a photo ID and put it in the hands of all voters. Our hope is to increase participation in the voting process.… We try and believe that it is our job to encourage this process but also bring about integrity.”
Both make claims to protect the electoral system’s integrity and improve access to it, but they can’t both be right while supporting laws that oppose each other. The Voter Empowerment Act doesn’t actually address voter ID issues, which are currently being addressed through litigation, but it would add protections against problems involving voter registration, poll-watching guidelines and ex-felon rights restoration.
The requirement that voters to show photo ID is just one more obstacle, yet none of these barriers have been recognized as such by the people pushing through new voting laws. Standing with Governor Bryant as he signed the photo voter ID law was Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who doesn’t acknowledge the challenges the law will present for voters because he’s focused on the challenge to the law will likely draw from the US Department of Justice.
Before the law can go into effect, it has to pass muster with DOJ. DOJ has powers under the Voting Rights Act to investigate new election laws in any of its covered jurisdictions, including Mississippi. All too aware of this, Hosemann has already started instigating a fight with DOJ, fearful the voter ID law he fought so hard for might get blocked per Texas and South Carolina.