By Jon Kalahar
Backed by the Secretary of State's Office, a comprehensive voting reform bill passed its first hurdle Monday when the senate elections committee moved it to the senate floor for a vote.
The Secretary of State's plan includes voter re-registration, more training for election workers, and something called "no excuse voting." The bill does not include Voter ID.
"We have in Mississippi 30 percent of our counties who have more people registered to vote than are breathing, so we have problem," said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
If Hosemann gets his wish, re-registration of Mississippi's voters will automatically take place during this year's presidential election, but anyone who doesn't vote then will have two years after that to re-register.
"The vote is the absolute key to everybody having integrity and picking up the actual numbers of voters that go the poll," said Hosemann.
Hosemann says he will create a new training for poll workers and election commissioners, as well as a "no excuse voting" period 15 days prior to any election -- for voters to cast their ballot in person at the circuit clerk's office and hopefully reduce absentee ballot fraud.
Hinds County Circuit Clerk Barbara Dunn is happy with the current system of voting. She says nothing's perfect, but things like purging the voting rolls are done every year by her election commission.
"The rolls are purged all the time," she said. "I have and you have -- if you live in Hinds County -- excellent election commissioners. That's their job, and that's what they do."
Voter ID would come up later in the session as a part of its own legislation, but the Secretary of State thinks Voter ID is something that the public wants. He calls it an issue used to divide Mississippians.
"Everybody knows you have identification in today's world, and it's time to get past that hurdle in Mississippi," said Hosemann.
"I don't know how many times it's come up in the legislature," she said. "It has never passed. Regardless of what -- the list is this long of things you can have -- but people don't want that."
District Judge Allen Pepper ruled last year to create a voter identification law in Mississippi. That ruling was appealed.
Hosemann says arguments will be heard March 6 before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans regarding Voter ID -- as well as closing party primaries here in the state.