Voter ID activists in Mississippi have collected more than 25,000 signatures on their way to a goal of 90,000 certified signatures to have a government issued photo voter identification requirement put on the ballot for consideration.

The ballot title of the initiative is "Should the Mississippi Constitution be amended to require a person to submit government issued photo identification in order to vote?" The initiative allows any voter without a government issued voter ID (such as a drivers license) to obtain one without charge from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

Sen. Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall) sponsors this photo voter ID initiative, formally known as "Initiative Measure Number 27," and the Mississippi Republican Party has dedicated staff and resources to the project.

Currently, between Fillingane and the MSGOP, three field operatives are working on the petition drive in neighborhoods and festivals across the state, including the upcoming Neshoba County Fair.

Fillingane launched www.ms4voterid.com and a Facebook group for Mississippians for Voter ID. The MSGOP mailed the petition to thousands of Republicans across the state for their help in securing signatures.

Voters elected Fillingane to the House of Representatives in 1999 when he was 26. In 2006, Fillingane won a special election to the state Senate. An attorney in practice with the Bustin Law Firm in Hattiesburg, Fillingane serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary-A Committee and Vice Chairman of the Constitution Committee.

Some Republicans complained this initiative would not have been necessary had several Republican Senators (Fillingane, Billy Hewes of Gulfport and Merle Flowers of Hernando) not killed a compromise voter ID measure in a Senate committee last session. Fillingane, Hewes and Flowers objected to early voting, same day registration, and felon franchisement provisions in the legislation. While the Democrats on the committee would not vote with these three to strip the troubling provisions from the bill, the Democrats were willing to vote with the Republicans to table the bill, thus killing it.

Republican Party Chairman Brad White said it's time to move on from that legislative battle, "Now with this voter ID initiative we have something all our Republican elected officials and leadership can agree on: real photo voter ID without compromise, without attachment. An initiative is hard work, but we can all agree on the outcome."

The Mississippi Legislature intentionally created a difficult initiative process. Twenty-eight initiatives have been attempted since the creation of the process in 1992. Four are currently active (voter ID, cigarette tax increase, personhood amendment, assisted suicide and abortion); one was withdrawn by the petitioners; three - all pertaining to gaming - were ruled improper or unconstitutional. Only two have made it onto the ballot: both term-limits issues supported by Governor Kirk Fordice; both defeated (in 1995 and again in 1999). Seventeen initiatives expired without obtaining the necessary number of signatures, including another voter ID initiative sponsored by then MSGOP Chairman Mike Retzer in 1998.

Once all the initial legal steps in the initiative filing process are complete and the Secretary of State and the Attorney General has signed off on their responsibilities, petitioners must secure and certify the signatures of voters equal to 12 percent of all votes cast for the previous election cycle's governor's race. This year, that equals 89,285 signatures. (Had voter turnout reached the 2003 level, nearly twenty thousand more signatures would have been necessary.)

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 (due to redistricting, Mississippi now has only four districts).

Petitioners must collect all signatures within 12 months of the initiative approval. The circuit clerks of each county certify the signatures collected from their voters. The full collection of certified signatures will be presented to the Secretary of State.

Once the measure is ready for the ballot, the legislature may pass an alternative version of the bill 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 not only must receive more votes for than against, but the votes for must constitute at least 40 percent of the total ballots cast during that election.

Because the legislature has the opportunity to consider an alternative, the initiative must be presented ninety days before the first day of the legislative session. If the 90,000 certified signatures for voter ID are presented before October 1, the initiative and any alternative will appear on the statewide ballot during the 2010 election. If not, and the certified signatures are collected before February 1 of next year, then voters will decide on the 2011 statewide ballot.

Whichever year is picked, expect a surge in turnout for the popular initiative.

Brian Perry, a former congressional aide, is a partner in a public affairs firm. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.