AUTHOR: MINOR

Several resourceful Senators had carefully constructed a plan to rescue Motor Voter this week from the guillotine to which it had been condemned by Rep. Bill Denny (R-Jackson), but time ran out on them.

Consequently, unless some legislative miracle happens in the next three weeks, Mississippi will remain the only state not in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act--Motor Voter passed by Congress in 1993.

And Denny, who had appointed himself High Lord Executioner over Motor Voter again will have thwarted efforts to give thousands of prospective voters the right to participate in Mississippi elections under the federal act.

Denny, as House Elections Committee Chairman, had not only denied House members from considering a Motor Voter bill co-sponsored by 70 of their colleagues, but also had buried a Motor Voter bill passed by the Senate early in the session without giving either a smidgen of a hearing.

Up against a legislative deadline this week, but with several House passed bills on campaign finance reform on the Senate calendar, Sen. Bennie Turner (D-West Point) and a couple of colleagues had prepared a broad amendment to the House bills, which if implanted would give Motor Voter rebirth.

It was a long shot to begin with because of the unusual procedure and depended on a favorable ruling from the Senate presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, in order to pull it off.

Musgrove, although a Motor Voter backer, after agonizing over the ruling, decided the amendment couldn't be implanted under Senate rules.

That meant Motor Voter could not be revived as the senators had hoped. But that development immediately appeared to have brought down the three pending House passed campaign finance bills because of the Senate's displeasure over Denny acting as self-styled dictator in killing Motor Voter.

Turner, the Senate Judiciary chairman, and several colleagues, had planned to combine the three House passed bills together in the amendment and add in Motor Voter, then send the package back to the House. In this form, it would escape Denny's clutches and would go straight to the House calendar for concurrence.

And as a Judiciary bill it would be handled by Judiciary A Chairman Ed Perry (D-Oxford), a Motor Voter backer.

Even should the bill have cleared the Legislature, it is likely it would have been vetoed by Gov. Kirk Fordice. But his veto could have been overridden by two-thirds of each house. Since Motor Voter law--broadened access to voter registration by providing that persons could register when they apply for a motor vehicle or driver's license and at public welfare offices. Because it is a federal act its mandates extend only to elections for federal offices. The states then have to bring their own voter registration laws into compliance with it.

If a state doesn't, it leaves itself in the ridiculous situation of having two sets of books--one applying to state elections and another applying to federal elections.

That's where Mississippi is, the only state in the union with two sets of books since it has not complied. Denny has been the chief reason for the absurdity the past two years and now the third.

Having to keep two sets of registration books naturally adds an unnecessary burden and expense on the backs of county circuit clerks who almost unanimously want the Legislature to get its act together and bring the state into compliance with the federal law.

Being able to register to vote in all elections in the state at the time they apply for an auto tag or driver's license is especially convenient for new citizens moving into the state. For a number of years Mississippi has been advertising to lure out-of-staters to resettle here. Now with Mississippi desperately trying to hold onto a Congressional seat in the next census, in-migration is an even more valuable prize.

The red herring Denny dragged in when he wrote a memorandum to House members on why he was blocking Motor Voter, that a Mississippi lawsuit is before the Supreme Court, is a fallacious one. The only issues involved in the citizens' lawsuit are totally peripheral to the main issue and do not involve the validity of the Motor Voter law. Even if the plaintiffs lose, the question comes back to where we are now: the necessity of the Mississippi Legislature bringing state voter registration laws in compliance with the federal NVRA.

Or the poor circuit clerks and the rest of us, will still be left where we are now: twisting in the wind with duplicate registration books.

Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics for 50 years.

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