-By Trymaine Lee
January 12, 2012- When Mississippi residents last year voted in favor of a ballot initiative amending the state's constitution to require voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls, it was seen as a strong public affirmation of the Republican initiative.
Unlike nearly a dozen other states that recently pushed similar bills through their legislatures against waves of opponents arguing the laws were unconstitutional and would disenfranchise minority and elderly voters, the people themselves in Mississippi had spoken: 62 percent for the amendment, 38 percent against it.
But a recent report from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law reveals a clearer picture of just which voices were heard in Mississippi. According to the report, more than 75 percent of non-white voters rejected the ballot measure, while more than 82 percent of their white counterparts supported it.
The gulf between those who voted for and against Initiative 27 was as pronounced as the long, complicated history of racial and partisan politics in the Deep South — and Mississippi in particular. Perhaps the state's minority voters fear history is repeating itself.
"Minority voters in Mississippi are used to devices and voter registration tricks that were used to try to keep them off the voting rolls. They looked at what was being proposed and decided this was not in their best interest and rejected it pretty overwhelmingly," said Bob Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers' Committee's Voting Rights Project. "It can be hard, I'll admit, to tell the difference sometimes between racial politics and partisan politics, in Mississippi and other states in the South especially, but there's a very clear racial dimension to this when you look at it in the historical context."
In fact, Democratic officials have blasted the slew of new election and voter ID laws across the country as a continued assault on key Democratic voting blocs, including black and Latino voters — a blitzkrieg ahead of the 2012 elections in which minorities will be key to President Barack Obama's bid for reelection.