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Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi’s former secretary of state, says current Secretary of State Michael Watson is wrong about a provision of the state’s voter ID law being missing from the state code books.
The voter ID law, which requires Mississippians show a government-issued photo ID at their polling place in order to vote, was added to the state Constitution by voters through the ballot initiative process in 2011. Lawmakers then codified the language into state law in 2012. Hosemann, who was secretary of state at the time, has touted the law and regularly boasted how it has never been challenged in court.
Following last month’s Mississippi Supreme Court decision that deemed the ballot initiative process unconstitutional, attorneys have been looking into whether the state’s voter ID law could be challenged.
Watson, in a recent radio interview, said one key provision of the voter ID law that was enshrined into the Constitution is not in state law: that any Mississippian can be issued free identification cards so they can vote. He argued that because that provision didn’t exist in state law, voter ID would be susceptible to a court challenge and that lawmakers should come back in a special session to add that “free ID” language to state law.
But on Thursday, following a Mississippi Today article quoting Watson about the voter ID law, Hosemann released a statement to directly refute Watson’s point.
“Recent news articles have stated a provision of Mississippi’s voter ID law, allowing a Mississippian to be issued a free voter identification card, has not been codified in state law. Those articles are inaccurate,” Hosemann said. “The provision requiring a free voter ID card is provided for in state law.”
Hosemann then cited Mississippi Code Section 23-15-7, which states in part: “…No fee shall be charged or collected for the application for or issuance of a Mississippi Voter Identification Card. Any costs associated with the application for or issuance of a Mississippi Voter Identification Card shall be made payable from the state’s General Fund.’”
Watson issued a statement of his own Friday morning, saying: “Regarding Voter ID, the statutory provisions about Voter ID cards make specific references to the Mississippi Constitution. My concern about Voter ID being challenged stems from the fact it was originally passed by a ballot initiative and put into the Constitution by a process the court has now deemed unconstitutional in its recent ruling about the medical marijuana initiative process.”
Watson continued: “While I believe a challenge would fail for several reasons, the safest way to keep our Voter ID law intact and prevent it from being in jeopardy is for the Legislature to take quick steps to clean up the statutes instead of leaving it up to the judiciary to decide.”
Legislative leaders are discussing the possibility of coming back to Jackson in a special session to fix the ballot initiative process and possibly pass a new medical marijuana program — struck down when the Supreme Court ruled the ballot initiative process unconstitutional.
The only other ballot initiative passed since the state lost a congressional district is one that prohibits the state of Mississippi and local governments from taking private property by eminent domain and conveying it to private entities for a period of 10 years.
The eminent domain language exists only in the state Constitution, not in state law, and Watson believes it is susceptible to a legal challenge following last month’s Supreme Court ruling. He said last week it should also be handled in a special session.
“That one has to be dealt with,” Watson said in the same radio interview.
So far, no legislative leader has disputed that point.