Mississippi legislation that would require residents to present valid photo identification in order to vote this November contains a measure that threatens to throw some prospective voters into a disenfranchising catch-22 situation.
The law, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R) earlier this year but still pending federal approval, includes a measure allowing Mississipians to get free voter ID cards if they present a birth certificate. But Mississippi law also requires its residents to show valid photo identification in order to get a copy of their birth certificate. Most applicants for voter ID cards are presumed to be seeking them because they don't have another acceptable form of photo ID. In other words, no birth certificate, no voter ID -- but also no photo ID, no birth certificate.
According to the Jackson Free Press, Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Secretary of State's office, has confirmed the catch-22.
Mississippi voters passed the measure at the polls in 2011 with 62 percent support. The Huffington Post's Trymaine Lee reported that the vote was split on racial lines, with whites voting strongly for it and non-whites voting overwhelmingly against. The Bryant administration has reportedly been preparing the legislation to weather Justice Department scrutiny. Other southern states with notorious legacies of voting rights violations have had similar laws blocked, which has led some Mississippi officials to float the possibility of seeking approval from a U.S. district court instead.
The confusion in Mississippi arises as tensions flare over voter ID legislation across the nation. Supporters remain insistent that the efforts are necessary to prevent alleged voter fraud and preserve the sanctity of elections. Opponents claim the laws are meant to suppress the vote and burden students, minorities and the elderly with additional requirements that will lead to their disenfranchisement. They also point to a number of reports that suggest actual voter fraud is far less common than voter ID advocates allege.
A new study in Pennsylvania showed that nearly 10 percent of the state's population (around 758,000 people) currently don't possess state driver's licenses. The state's voter ID law, like Mississippi's, permits other forms of identification to be used at polling places, but voting rights advocates claimed that the numbers served as a worrying sign that far more people than expected would be forced to take extra action in order to cast votes this fall.
Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as many as 30 percent of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.
The Justice Department dealt a blow to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back with a lawsuit that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the West Ashley Patch reports. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."
Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, filed a lawsuit with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some 700,000 Pennsylvanians lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to the Brennan Center, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.
The Kansas House voted earlier this year to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock reports: Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change. Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said. Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, according to the Brennan Center. The bill to change the start date eventually failed, but will still go into effect next year.
Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a voter ID bill into law, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional. Still, poll workers reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.