Mississippi Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant was in Starkville Monday and asked the city”s Rotarians for their support in making identification requirements stricter for voters when they head to the polls.
Bryant asked the more than 100 Starkville Rotary Club members in attendance to sign a petition in favor of a referendum on voter identification. He wants to see amendments to the state constitution which would require persons to present government issued photo identification before they can vote.
Bryant”s plea Monday was part of a statewide Republican campaign to gather signatures and allow citizens to weigh in on whether or not voters should have to present valid photo ID.
“We don”t think it”s too much to ask for you to prove who you are,” Bryant said.
Roughly 40 Starkville Rotarians or their guests signed the petition, said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, who was in attendance and counted the signatures. About 30,000 voters have signed it statewide, he said.
According to Bryant, 95,000 registered Mississippi voters need to sign the petition and their signatures have to be verified by their respective county circuit clerks; then the matter would go to the state legislature before it gets put to a public vote, he said.
Bryant and Chism hope their fellow Republicans drum up enough signatures in time for photo identification reform to be included on a statewide ballot by 2010 or 2011
“This is an organized effort to get it on the ballot,” Chism said.
Similar legislation has passed the Senate the past two years, but was defeated in the House, Bryant said. One of the reasons it failed, he said, was because one of the provisions would have allowed convicted felons to vote, which rubbed many Republicans and some Democrats the wrong way.
Bryant doesn”t believe people in jail should have the right to vote, he said after the Rotary meeting. He also doesn”t believe voting machines should be set up at polling places 15 days before each election to allow early voting. The early voting option was included in the legislation rejected last year.
“I just worry about putting voting machines in there two weeks ahead of time and putting court clerks in charge,” Bryant said. “I don” think all of them can be trusted.”
“We”re creating another avenue for fraud. You”ve got people who are up for reelection running the polls, Bryant said of the clerks.
Bryant has been criticized by the Mississippi Democratic Party for his stances.
“It”s odd to us that the Republicans are doing this, considering that it was Republican senators under the direction of Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant who killed a comprehensive voting bill that included not only voter ID but also early voting initiatives,” Mississippi Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Hall said in a statement. “If this doesn”t prove that Republicans are more interested in voter ID as a political wedge issue than really passing meaningful legislation, then I don”t know what does.”
Hall also questioned the Republicans” statewide petition drive.
“The courts still have not fully clarified where these signatures must come from,” Hall said. “The law says from the state”s five Congressional districts, but we only have four Congressional districts today. Until this is clarified by the courts, it looks like a petition drive is getting the cart before the horse.”
“Mississippians should also wonder about the validity of the signatures collected,” Hall continued. “The Republicans want people to show ID before they vote, but they do not require ID to sign their petition. I know, because I asked numerous signature gatherers at the Neshoba County Fair if ID was required to sign their petition. They all said no.”
No identification was required to sign the petition Monday in Starkville, either.