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Secretary of state says voter fraud hurts poor people

Emily Wagster Pettus // Published April 8, 2008 in Hattiesburg American Newspaper
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Monday that poor people are hurt the most in cases of vote-buying or other election fraud.

It's a new twist for Republican Hosemann as he seeks support for changes to election laws, including provisions to require voters to show a driver's license or other identification at the polls.

"Voter fraud is about keeping poor people poor. It does not give them the opportunity to get an education, to get a job, to have a place to raise your family," Hosemann said Monday during a press luncheon in Jackson.

His remarks came as legislators are in the final two weeks of their 2008 session.

House and Senate negotiators could meet in the next few days to discuss a bill that - at different times during this legislative session - has encompassed several proposals, including:

· Early voting in some counties. Under current law, people can vote early only if they are going to be out of their home county on election day.

· Eliminating "agents" who seek out people to vote absentee and then help the voter fill out the absentee ballot.

· Removing an elected official from office the day that person is convicted of a felony.

· Banning relatives of a candidate from serving on a board that resolves election questions.

Voter ID is not in the bill that's up for negotiations now. But the Senate has passed a resolution to try to revive the issue. The House also would have to give two-thirds approval before a new bill could be filed with voter ID, and that appears unlikely to happen.

In an interview Monday, House Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, would not predict which election proposals - if any - will survive this session.

Reynolds is one of the negotiators and, as chairman, has great influence about which bills live or die.

Hosemann was elected in November and took office in January. He spoke Monday at a luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.

Hosemann cited examples from north Mississippi's Benton County, where 16 people were indicted last month on vote-fraud charges tied to the August 2007 primaries. He said several people allegedly were paid $15 to $25 for their votes, and one person received $20 and a case of beer.

Hosemann said vote-selling and other schemes deprive people of the ability to elect officials who might make changes that could help people improve their own economic conditions.

In comments apparently aimed at voter ID opponents, Hosemann also said: "Each time we look at something like this and each time we go into the process, the legislative process, you hear the tired, redundant comments, the old comments about why we shouldn't have voter reform, why we ought to keep the status quo. The status quo is not performing in Mississippi."

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, is one of the staunchest opponents of voter ID. Bills have been filed, and killed, several times over the past decade.

Jordan lived through the violence of the Jim Crow era, when black Mississippians were threatened - and sometimes killed - for trying to vote. He said Monday that voter ID is "hemlock."

"The great-great grandsons ... of the oppressed people are saying no (to voter ID)," Jordan said. "And the great-great grandsons of the perpetrators are saying yes."

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