Mississipppi’s Voter ID Catch 22

Mississippi’s voter identification law might prove literally impossible for some of its residents to adhere to. In the state, a measure written by State Senator Joey Fillingane (R) and approved by a ballot initiative requires voters to have photograph identification, which they can only obtain if they’ve got a birth certificate to present. But they can only get a birth certificate using photo ID. (It is worth noting here that Fillingane is a member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is notorious for its voter suppression efforts).

State officials acknowledge the problem Fillingane’s law might cause:

State officials are running into problems with the new voter-identification law even before the federal government has approved or rejected it. Voters without a photo ID are facing a circular problem: They need a certified birth certificate to get the voter ID, and they need a photo ID to get the birth certificate.

Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman of the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office, today confirmed the catch-22 problem, which the Jackson Free Press learned about from a complaint posted on Facebook. One of the requirements to get the free voter ID cards is a birth certificate, but in order to receive a certified copy of your birth certificate in Mississippi, you must have a photo ID. Not having the photo ID is why most people need the voter ID in the first place.

The law is not yet in place, since the federal government needs to approve it under the Voting Rights Act. That Act forbids state voting laws that have a discriminatory impact on minority voters, and, because of Mississippi’s sordid history of voter suppression, requires that the state’s voting laws be precleared by the Justice Department or a federal judge before they can take effect.


There’s no good reason why the Mississippi law should survive such scrutiny. Voter ID laws are especially likely to prevent certain historically disenfranchised communities from voting — 18 percent of elderly voters lack a valid photo ID, as do 25 percent of black and 20 percent of Asian adults.