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VOTER ID…

February 15, 2010
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PERRY/Success of voter ID drive By BRIAN PERRY The Mississippi Republican Party is preparing to announce the successful gathering of more than 100,000 signatures in an initiative to put photo voter-ID onto the statewide ballot in 2011. A press conference presenting the certified signatures to the Office of the Secretary of State is anticipated for Thursday, February 11. “This just goes to show what we can accomplish when everyone is working together on the same page,” Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White said of Republican efforts. “Two groups deserve the most credit for making this possible: the Tea Party activists across the state, and the local Republican Party county chairmen and their committees. These activists and volunteers went door to door, set up tables at events and festivals, and poured hundreds of work hours into this project to ensure Mississippians will have the opportunity to vote for photo voter-ID.” Voter-ID activists had a year from the filing of the initiative by its sponsor Senator Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall). The deadline for completion is Sunday, February 14. State law requires petitioners to secure signatures equal to 12 percent of all votes cast for the previous gubernatorial race: 89,285 total signatures. All signatures must be from registered Mississippi voters and to count toward the total, no more than one-fifth of the signatures may come from any of Mississippi’s five congressional districts as drawn prior to the 2000 census. While that means 17,857 signatures were needed from each district, White expects to have more than 20,000 signatures from each district, “and we still have more coming in or awaiting certification at circuit clerk offices.” “It’s hard to say for certain right now how many we have, as we’re still putting all our certified signatures through an audit system, but it looks like we’ve hit our goals and have a comfortable cushion to withstand any potential challenge from voter-ID opponents,” White said. Once ready for the ballot, the legislature may pass an alternative version of the measure to appear next to the people’s initiative. The voter can vote against both the initiative and the alternative, or vote for one or the other. To pass, the initiative must not only receive more votes for than against, but the votes in favor must constitute at least 40 percent of the total ballots cast. This will be the first initiative to successfully gather petitions since term limit initiatives in 1995 and 1999, both backed by Governor Kirk Fordice and both eventually failing on the ballot. Since its creation in 1992, twenty-three initiatives (including a previous voter-ID attempt in 1998) have died, been withdrawn, or ruled improper. In addition to the photo voter-ID initiative, there are five other active initiatives, with the Personhood Amendment the closest to also achieving ballot placement. The Personhood Amendment would define “person” in the Mississippi Constitution to apply at the moment of conception. Les Riley, sponsor of the initiative, contends they have more than 95,000 gross signatures statewide, but are still a little short in the district total from the old fourth district (Southwest Mississippi). His organization, Personhood Mississippi, recently filed suit in contest of an Attorney General’s Opinion that maintains the signatures must be gathered and certified within the year deadline. Riley says he believes they will have all the signatures gathered, but they may not have been certified by the state’s 82 circuit clerks, by their February 13 deadline. “It will be extremely close with or without the lawsuit,” Riley said, “but we want to collect signatures until the legal deadline to make sure every signature counts.” Three initiatives that have seen little activity involve cigarette taxes, “federal obedience”, and another shot at term limits. A fourth initiative (eminent domain) still has eight months till deadline. Bill Luckett, an announced Democratic candidate for governor in 2011, and advertising executive Rory Reardon, are sponsoring an initiative that would increase cigarette taxes to “equal to forty percent of the National Cigarette State Tax Average” with 98 percent of the revenue directed to Medicaid. Luckett and his organization Progress for Mississippi have made little effort to push this initiative which expires March 4. Michael Worley of Florence filed an initiative that expires April 7 to provide Mississippi “shall not be bound to obey any directive from the United States Government… which directive violates the United States Constitution or is extra-constitutional in its origin or in its makeup.” Dr. Godfrey Garner of Edwards has an initiative to limit all elected officials in Mississippi to two terms in succession; his efforts expire June 3. Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President David Waide still has until early October to collect the signatures for his initiative restricting eminent domain. As the Mississippi Republican Party and the Personhood Initiative can attest, getting those nearly 100,000 signatures isn’t easy. But Waide may have a shot, considering his organization has 209,000 member families in every county in the state. Brian Perry of Jackson is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.

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