“Vote fraud is an equal opportunity election stealer. A fraud free election process would benefit black candidates as well as white candidates,” said Gov. Kirk Fordice, responding to the idea that voter ID was insensitive to African-American voters. The Republican Fordice had won reelection in 1995 against Democratic Secretary of State Dick Molpus who was soft on voter-ID. Nearing the end of his second term, Fordice continued to push for the ballot security measure and was willing to sign the federal “Motor Voter” (National Voter Registration Act) bill – which he had long opposed - into law if the legislature attached voter-ID to it. The Democratic controlled legislature refused. He vetoed the bill.

(Ultimately a federal court enforced “Motor Voter” so Democrats got it without having to give-in on voter-ID.)

Afterward, Fordice and the Mississippi Republican Party launched an initiative to gather signatures to put the voter-ID on the statewide ballot. A year later, the initiative died with only about 50,000 signatures collected - just over half the number of signatures necessary to move forward.

At about the same point in his second term, Governor Haley Barbour saw the prospect of voter-ID fail in the legislature again. But this time, the tables had been turned. In 1998, Republicans wanted voter-ID attached to “Motor Voter” to pass it. In 2009, Republicans wanted a clean voter-ID bill. But House Bill 1533 - known as “The Early Voting Act” — which reached the Senate also contained early voting, registration allowed until three days before the election and returning the vote to certain convicted felons. A “Gang of Four” Republican Senators killed the measure in committee when Merle Flowers of Southaven moved to table the bill on deadline day and was supported by Billy Hewes of Gulfport, Joey Fillingane of Sumrall  and Chris McDaniel of Ellisville.

Again, the Mississippi Republican Party launched a voter-ID initiative, this one sponsored by one of those senators – Joey Fillingane. This time it was successful.

 It is during that 2009 fight that Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann offers his perspective on the voter-ID journey in an upcoming Mississippi Law Journal article titled, “Not Our Grandfathers’ Mississippi Anymore: Implementing Mississippi’s Voter Identification Requirement.”

In 2009, Hosemann was an advocate for early voting (he now opposes it) and he was convinced it was the key to compromise to pass voter-ID in the legislature. House Republicans were anxious to pass any voter-ID and then Senate Election Committee Chairman Terry C. Burton (R-Newton) argued the legislation could be made palatable without killing it. Still, the “Gang of Four” was adamantly opposed to the other provisions in the bill.  According to Flowers, after tabling and killing “The Early Voting Act,” Burton accused him of “stabbing me in the back.”  Flowers objected to that characterization and told Burton he was looking at him face to face, “I stabbed you in the gut.”

At the time, the Mississippi Republican Party had taken a position in opposition to early voting and stood in solidarity with the “Gang of Four.” Many legislators had been convinced that there would never be voter-ID without early voting.

But the Republican Party and Fillingane launched a voter-ID initiative and with the help of Tea Party activists gathered more than 100,000 signatures (89,285 were required) to put the measure on the 2011 general election ballot without the baggage of early voting.

Initiative 27 (voter-ID) received more than half-a-million votes and won with 62 percent of the vote.

Getting on the ballot was step one. Winning the vote was step two.

Hosemann’s article describes the extensive efforts taken by his office to implement voter-ID through law and administrative rules in a way which has resulted in Mississippi’s law never being challenged in Court while other states across the country have seen their laws struck down by federal courts.  According to Hosemann, since voter-ID became effective in June 2014, 99.9 percent of voters have presented their IDs at the polls. As of the end of 2016, 7,737 free Mississippi Voter Identification cards have been issued.

Hosemann notes in his article the Department of Justice deployed more than 500 observers to sixty-seven jurisdictions in twenty-eight states for the 2016 election; but none to Mississippi.

Hosemann concludes his article, “Mississippians proved to the country and to themselves our State is able to overcome political and racial barriers and conduct our elections without federal oversight. By inclusion, open debate, political discourse, countless hours of hard work, and careful, well-executed planning, Mississippians were able to not only implement a constitutional voter identification requirement, but do so in a fair and open manner without disenfranchising any voter. Mississippi is not the State of our grandfathers, but it is the State for the future of our grandchildren.”

To the vindication of the Senate “Gang of Four,” Mississippi also proved it could implement voter-ID without passing early voting.





Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.