CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
There are 122 members of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Seventy of them co-sponsored a bill that would align Mississippi's voter registration law with federal law -as every other state in the nation has done. But because one committee chairman won't bring the bill up for a vote, it will die.
That's the way the system works; rarely, however, does a chairman so blatantly thwart the will of a legislative majority. House Apportionment and Elections Committee chairman Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, gave more credence to the wishes of Gov. Kirk Fordice and the office of Attorney General Mike Moore - an odd alliance on this issue - than to his colleagues. Denny's 70 fellow House members, as well as the Mississippi Senate which has already passed the bill, have the stronger argument.
In 1993, Congress passed the so-called "Motor Voter" law allowing voter registration at driver's license bureaus and various government agencies. It became effective in 1994. Every state in the nation has conformed its voter registration law to that federal legislation - except Mississippi. Our state has stubbornly refused for three years to adopt the change. This has created two sets of voters in Mississippi, those who have registered under the federal law and can vote in federal but not state or local elections and those who have registered in state-sanctioned ways and can vote in any election.
That has meant additional expense - $500,000 already - to counties that must maintain two sets of voter registration books. It has also meant considerable confusion and frustration for voters who have registered under the federal law.
Mississippi's lone-wolf resistance to the "Motor Voter" law is particularly unfortunate given our state's notorious history of voting rights discrimination. The rationale of the governor's and attorney general's offices for doing nothing is that the state is currently defending its inaction in a case that has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. What sort of message does it send to the rest of the nation -already more than willing to judge Mississippi by its past - that this state is insistent on fighting expanded access to voter registration, access that every other state has accepted?
Secretary of State Eric Clark and Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove are right in their insistence that legislative inaction on "Motor Voter" is indefensible. Rep. Denny has done the state a disservice.