A voter ID initiative to appear on ballot in 2011

BROOKHAVEN, Miss.

Next November, Brookhaven’s Jennifer Jackson plans to march down to her polling place and vote in favor of a voter ID initiative that will appear on the 2011 ballot.

There are plenty of arguments against and in favor of requiring voters to show photo identification before they vote, but few people have experienced a voter ID crisis quite like Jackson.

In an election in the late 1990s, she arrived at the precinct to discover that, somehow, she had already voted. And so had her father, Don Jackson, who had been dead for a decade.

“I was so appalled. I heard voter fraud happened, but it happened to me,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s ordeal began because of a mix-up in the voter rolls – she had moved across town and her address had not been updated.

Jackson had to go to the courthouse to vote because of the mistake, and when she arrived and got ready to make her mark, she was told she had already voted. She claimed she was “the real Jennifer Jackson” and produced her driver’s license, but officials already had a record of her voting earlier in the day.

“They showed me where I had initialed my name. I checked to see if my dead daddy, who had been dead for 10 years, had voted, and he had also voted,” Jackson said.

Jackson had to fill out an affidavit to vote that year. She never discovered who had voted in her – or her late father’s – place.

“It’s still a mystery. I don’t guess it ever got solved,” she said. “I don’t even know if my vote counted that year.”

There was nothing Jackson could do but wonder for the next 10 years.

In 2008, when the voter ID issue came back into Mississippi politics hot and heavy, she decided to share her story in a letter to Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. The Brookhaven senator passed the information on to Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who called Jackson to find out more and has since used her example to drum up support for a voter ID initiative.

It worked.

A long process of gathering signatures to support such an initiative, spearheaded mostly by Republicans, ended when Hosemann’s office announced 131,678 verified signatures had been collected. The number was approximately 40,000 more than needed to place the issue on the 2011 ballot.

Republicans have led the charge in calling for voter ID, saying the measure is necessary to clear up recurring voter fraud like that experienced by Jackson. They point out that many transactions – from writing checks to renting movies – requires identification.

Democrats have shown the most opposition to voter ID – particularly members of the Black Caucus in the Legislature – claiming that requiring identification at the polls could disenfranchise some voters. They fret specifically about the proof requirements intimidating older black voters who lived through segregation and remember the prohibiting measures enacted against their race in the days of Jim Crow.

Despite the oft-quoted battle of principles and politics that swamps the voter ID debate, members of both parties in Lincoln County are behind the initiative.

“Jennifer’s story is just an example that voter fraud exists – it’s alive and well,” said Hyde-Smith, a Democrat. “There are parts of this state that have more registered voters than there are people even living there. I think voter ID will clean up a lot of elections.”

Mike Byrne, the Democratic chairman of the county election commission, deals with voting and voter registration on a weekly basis. He favors voter ID, too.

“I’m all for it,” Byrne said. “There is a lot of dishonesty going on, and hopefully this will cut out some of it.”

Lincoln County Circuit Clerk Terry Lynn Watkins, a Democrat, said the only problem she could foresee with voter ID was that the elderly might have a hard time getting out to secure an identification card. Guidelines stipulate those without an ID can obtain free identification from the state.

“I cannot think of an instance where it would disenfranchise anybody,” Watkins said. “We have to show ID practically for everything now.”

For Republicans, there’s no question on voter ID.

Lincoln County Republican Party Chairman John Roberts was one of the worker bees who helped make the initiative possible, renting a booth at collecting signatures at the 2009 Ole Brook Festival and ferrying the petitions around Brookhaven when people called him and requested it.

“I never had anyone turn me down,” he said. “When people saw it, everyone signed it. It’s just a fair deal. You catch an airplane, rent a car or make a reservation for a room, you have to have an ID. Voting is a much greater privilege than doing something like that.”

State Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, recalled her past as a poll worker, saying that even then many voters would approach the sign-in book with ID in hand, even though it wasn’t required.

“The voters wanted this a long time ago,” she said. “I can’t imagine it won’t pass, and hopefully from then on out we won’t have people in the cemetery voting anymore.”

Information from: The Daily Leader, http://www.dailyleader.com
By ADAM NORTHAM – Brookhaven Daily Leader
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