CATEGORY: Legislature

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED: Motor Voter fate rests with Senate

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - For the past two years, the Mississippi Senate easily approved Motor Voter bills that later languished and died in a House committee.

But this year -- when the full House finally passed a Motor Voter bill by an overwhelming margin -- it could be the Senate where the legislation dies.

True, the Senate passed a Motor Voter bill earlier this session for the third straight year, a bill to allow Mississippians to register to vote for all elections at drivers' license bureaus, county welfare department offices and other social service agencies.

But now the question is whether the Senate supporters of Motor Voter can muster the two-thirds majority needed to override Gov. Kirk Fordice's promised veto.

Veto promise

In the governor's state of the state speech in January, Fordice promised to veto any Motor Voter legislation that doesn't require voters to show identification at the polls. Fordice reiterated that promise this week.

Efforts to add the identification provision to the Motor Voter bill were defeated handily earlier this session in the Senate and on Thursday in the House.

The House went on to pass Motor Voter 87-33, which is a margin large enough to override any veto.

But the 31-17 margin by which Motor Voter passed the Senate would not override a Fordice veto.

"My thinking is that I feel the governor's veto will be sustained," said Sen. Tim Johnson, R-Madison

If all 52 senators participate, it would take 35 votes to override a veto or 18 to sustain a veto. While only 31 were recorded as voting in favor of Motor Voter on Jan. 8, it was obvious that actually 33 favored the passage of the legislation.

Two pairs were recorded on Jan. 8. Pairs occurs when senators agree to "pair" or offset their votes with senators who are not there. Neither vote counts, but it lets the absent senators go on record on the issue.

Since Motor Voter needed only a majority to pass on Jan. 8, the pairs were meaningless. But in an override situation - where a two-thirds majority is needed - those two votes will be crucial.

Adding those two votes still would give the Motor Voter supporters only 33 votes -- two short of the number needed to override if everyone votes.

"I think on the day they try to override you will have a lot of people doing a lot of talking," Johnson said. "But the talking is not going to make any difference on how people vote. I think the votes are set in stone. We are just waiting for the veto message to come down.

"We have 19 votes to sustain the veto and we don't need but 18," Johnson said.

Those 19 votes include 17 of the Senate's 18 Republicans. Two Democratic senators - Bill Minor of Holly Springs and Tommy Dickerson of Waynesboro - voted against the Motor Voter bill.

Only one Republican senator - Jim Bean of Hattiesburg - voted in favor of Motor Voter. Bean also voted in favor of the identification requirement, but once that failed he reluctantly voted for Motor Voter.

Some say the logic Bean probably used in casting his vote for Motor Voter may be the best chance of overriding the Republican Fordice's veto.

Obviously, Bean wanted the Motor Voter bill to contain the voter identification requirement, but he did not want it bad enough to kill the whole bill.

Many say it is time to put the controversial Motor Voter issue to rest.

"I think that the circuit clerks and election commissioners will ask all of us - regardless of what we did on our initial vote - to pass the bill so that we will not have to continue to spend the taxpayers' money because we don't have Motor Voter," said Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez.

Conformity problems

Mississippi is the only state not to conform to the federal Motor Voter law. Because of that non-conformity, people in Mississippi who register at drivers' license bureaus and other social service agencies can vote in federal elections for president and for member of Congress, but not for state, county and municipal officials.

Circuit clerks, who oversee elections in the state's 82 counties must print separate ballots every two years when federal elections are held and must maintain separate voter registration lists.

Secretary of State Eric Clark, who oversees state elections, said the separate voter registration lists and separate ballots will cost the counties about $1 million every four years.

Fordice and others have opposed Motor Voter because they said it isn't right for the federal government to tell the states how to register people to vote. Plus, they said the easier registration process enhances the opportunities for voter fraud.

But Motor Voter supporters have said voter identification should be addressed as a separate issue.

"I have some real concerns about dropping an ID for all Mississippians in this bill," said Sen. Neely Carlton, D-Greenville. "In the future if we want to look at ID as a separate issue that would be fine instead of putting it in a bill that deals with voter registration."

But Johnson said he hopes the Senate upholds Fordice's veto and then passes another Motor Voter bill this year that includes voter identification.

"We want to do everything we can to help the circuit clerks," he said.

The Mississippi Circuit Clerks Association passed a resolution Friday urging Fordice to sign the Motor Voter legislation to "resolve the present inefficient system of voter registration that now exists in Mississippi."

The Election Commissioners' Association of Mississippi passed a resolution in January in support of the passage of Motor Voter.

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