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Miss. Senate approves Voter ID bill

JACKSON, Miss — Mississippi voters could be a little closer to needing to show photo identification before voting.

The Senate voted Tuesday in favor of House Bill 921, which would provide framework to set up a constitutional amendment that voters approved in November.

However, it remains unclear whether the U.S. Justice Department will approve a photo identification requirement for Mississippi. Federal officials have rejected similar laws in South Carolina and Texas. Several Democrats who oppose the provision said Tuesday that they are relying on the Justice Department to reject voter identification.

"We've got a Justice Department for things that are not constitutional," said Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, who opposed the bill.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, four states currently have photo identification requirements as strict as the one Mississippi could enact.

The bill goes back to the House, where it's likely bound for a conference committee.

The measure found customary opposition Tuesday from a number of Democrats, who said that there's little to no in-person voter fraud and that the measure would cause some older people and black people who don't have a valid ID to be unable to vote.

"Now we have Jim Crow coming back in, dressed up pretty," said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. "How can we implement something that would suppress the vote?"

Jordan implied that the bill's supporters weren't truly Christian, prompting an angry rebuttal from Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp, a Baptist pastor. Jackson said Jordan was the one who was injecting race into the discussion.

"Who is living in the past, you or I?" Jackson asked Jordan.

"I'm using my preacher voice because I'm passionate about this," Jackson said, rising to a shout. "This is not a question of Christianity, this is a question of law."

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who sponsored the constitutional referendum that was approved by 62 percent of the voters, said he believed cheating is relatively widespread, and said even if it weren't, Mississippi should tighten its requirements.

"It's not negligible to the people whose races are impacted by voter fraud," he said.

Voters could use a number of items as photo identification, including a Mississippi driver's license, a Mississippi pistol permit, an Indian tribal identification, a U.S. passport, identification from any public or private college in Mississippi, or other identification issued by the federal or state government or and other Mississippi city, county or local agency.

If a person had none of those, he could still cast a ballot, but it wouldn't be counted unless he returned within five days to show an acceptable form of identification to a registrar.

Tuesday, the Senate also added an exemption for any person with religious objections to being photographed, saying the person could swear out those objections to a registrar within five days of the vote and still have his ballot count.

The bill also calls for county registrars and the state Department of Public Safety to issue free voter identification cards to people who don't have other forms of identification. To get one of those cards, a person would have to present a Social Security card, a Medicare card, a Medicaid card, a document showing "date and place of birth," some other photo identification, or "other acceptable evidence" of residence in a county.

Senate Elections Committee Chairman Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said that there's no evidence that people have been denied votes and plenty of evidence that elections are insecure. He made reference to an associated of conservative activist James O'Keefe, who recently posed as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a District of Columbia polling place to show the need for voter identification.

"This is not Jim Crow," McDaniel said. "The facts are different than the fantasies."