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Voting act interpretations may be problematic in Miss.

Shelia Byrd

JACKSON, Miss. — The NAACP is educating voters in Mississippi about whether they will be required to show identification at the polls Nov. 4, hoping to avoid any Election Day confrontations.

Derrick Johnson, state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the civil rights group has been using training workshops, direct mail and community outreach about the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which only requires first-time voters who register by mail to show ID at the polls.

Johnson is worried that problems could occur when some Mississippi voters encounter misinformed poll workers. He offered this scenario: What happens if a person filled out a form during a voter registration campaign, and the form was hand-delivered to the circuit clerk by someone else?

“We take the position they should be allowed to vote without ID. The question is what interpretation will the workers take,” Johnson said last Friday.

Poll workers likely will follow the directive from the office of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican serving his first year in office. Anyone who does not register in person before the registrar must supply HAVA identification, either with the voter registration application or when voting for the first time, said Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman for Hosemann.

Johnson said he doesn’t think that is consistent with federal requirement.

Voter ID has been a contentious issue in Mississippi, where lawmakers for years have tried unsuccessfully to require some form of ID at the polls. During the last legislative session, Hosemann pushed an election reform bill that included an ID provision. Hosemann has said it’s needed to eliminate fraud, but Johnson is among those who say there’s no evidence of widespread fraud at the polls in the state.

Mississippi isn’t a swing state in the presidential race, but there are some high-profile contests, including Democratic former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s challenge of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., for the seat formerly held by Republican Trent Lott.

Carol Swilley, circuit clerk in Rankin County, said the Statewide Elections Management System, maintained with Hosemann’s office, flags the names of voters who need to show ID. Poll workers check to see if names, birth dates and social security numbers in the system match the ID. The county has about 7,000 new registered voters, Swilley said.

Jason Pollan of the Mississippi Center for Justice said that during the 2007 state elections, some Hinds County precincts posted signs that told voters who had an apartment address or post office box they would have to present ID.

“Our first inquiry was met with denial,” Pollan said. “When I indicated I had photos of it, they then went to look in the boxes and, lo and behold, they found exactly what we were complaining about.”

Hinds County Elections Commissioner Connie Cochran said the signs didn’t ask for ID, but verification from voters about their address, and have since been destroyed, “so that’s a moot issue.”

Lee County is taking steps to avoid any confusion about voter ID, said circuit clerk Joyce Loftin. She said the county has posted four new posters informing first-time registered voters if they’ll need ID and the acceptable forms of identification.

Loftin said extra poll workers have been hired to walk up and down lines that form at precincts to assist new voters.

“We felt that the need was there this time especially since we’re going to have so many people that have never voted before. I really, truly believe we’re going to have a great turnout,” Loftin said.

Loftin said as of Oct. 17, Lee County had 55,787 registered voters, up from 49,713 in March.

(Associated Press)