This story has been updated to include a statement from Secretary of State Michael Watson.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who served as secretary of state from 2008 until 2020, wants Mississippians to know that voters can obtain the necessary voter ID to cast a ballot free of charge under state law.
During an interview with Paul Gallo on SuperTalk radio on May 27, the current secretary of state, Michael Watson, erroneously said that free voter IDs “is the only piece (of the voter ID law) that’s in the Constitution” but “not in statute.”
Two statewide news publications, Mississippi Today and The Clarion-Ledger, reported the incorrect claims as true.
“Recent news articles have stated a provision of Mississippi’s Voter ID law, allowing a Mississippian to be issued a free voter identification card, has not been codified in state law. Those articles are inaccurate. The provision requiring a free Voter ID card is provided for in state law,” Hosemann said in a statement today. That has been true since Hosemann pushed Mississippians to vote to require voter identification in a 2011 ballot initiative that amended the state constitution.
After the Mississippi Supreme Court nullified the state’s ballot initiative law last month, along with the 2020 medical marijuana law, some raised concerns that the decision would also kill the voter ID law. But a number of lawmakers say that voter ID is not in danger because, after voters placed it in the Mississippi Constitution, the Legislature separately codified it as part of the state’s statutory law—including the requirement for free identification cards.
In addition to the Gallo interview, Watson claimed voter ID was not in state statute during an appearance at the Indianaola Rotary Club on May 25.
“So, the only thing with voter ID, really quickly, everything is in statute with the exception of the government will provide a free ID,” Watson said. “That’s the only piece that was in the Constitution that’s not in statute. So it’s not that big of a deal, but again, I think we should get it right and get it as quickly as we can.”
In his statement, Hosemann cited the voter ID statute, Mississippi Code Annotated Section 23-15-7, which says that “… No fee shall be charged or collected for the application for or issuance of a Mississippi Voter identification card” and that the State’s general fund shall cover any related costs. Other states with voter ID requirements do not provide free identification.
In 2012, then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder compared a voter ID law that then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed into law, which only provided free voter IDs to residents with a copy of their birth certificate, to a “poll tax.” Texas had to make changes to the law after the U.S. Department of Justice sued and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it violated Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2016.
Mississippians without an accepted form of photo ID can obtain a free voter identification card by visiting their county circuit clerk’s office on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m. and applying for one which they will later receive in the mail. If voters do not have any accepted identifying documents, the circuit clerk will ask them to their date of birth, birth state and mother’s maiden name. If a voter applies for an ID within 45 days of an election, they may use the voter ID application receipt from their circuit clerk’s office in place of a photo ID at the voting booth. More information on voter ID is available at the Mississippi Secretary of State website.
Update (6/4/2021): This afternoon, Secretary Watson’s office sent a statement saying that he continues to have concerns about the voter ID law.
“Regarding Voter ID, the statutory provisions about Voter ID cards make specific references to the Mississippi Constitution. My concern about Voter ID being challenged stems from the fact it was originally passed by a ballot initiative and put into the Constitution by a process the Court has now deemed unconstitutional in its recent ruling about the medical marijuana initiative process,” he said. “While I believe a challenge would fail for several reasons, the safest way to keep our Voter ID law intact and prevent it from being in jeopardy is for the legislature to take quick steps to clean up the statutes instead of leaving it up to the judiciary to decide.”
The part of Section 23-15-7 that mentions the Constitution is (2), which says “The registrar of each county shall provide a location in the registrar’s office at which he or she shall accept applications for Mississippi Voter Identification cards in accordance with the Mississippi Constitution.” It also says that counties with two judicial districts “shall provide a location in the registrar’s office in each judicial district at which he or she shall accept applications for Mississippi voter Identification Cards in accordance with the Mississippi Constitution.”
The portion of the law that requires the state to provide those ID cards and for it to issue them for free to citizens does include the phrase, “in accordance with the Mississippi Constitution,” however.
On Tuesday, June 8, Mississippians will vote for new city leaders in municipalities across the state. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters must provide an accepted form of photo ID or a receipt for a state-issued voter ID if they applied for one within 45 days of the election. Voters who do not have an ID when they arrive at the polls may vote by affidavit.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann was secretary of state from 2011 until 2020. He served as secretary of state from 2008 until 2020. We apologize for the error.