Geoff Pender, The Sun Herald, Mar. 19
JACKSON — Emotions ran high and tears flowed as House members debated late into Thursday night a voter identification bill that raised ghosts of Mississippi’s past.
In the end, a bill that would have required voters to show identification to cast affidavit ballots failed 47-72. Many whites who had been prepared to vote yes changed their minds after hearing testimonials from black members who grew up in a segregated state with Jim Crow laws and practices that intimidated black voters.
“Tonight we have heard the most complete, honest and open floor debate in the last 25 years,” said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.
“An old wound has been opened tonight — an old wound that has not yet healed — and an issue that is very emotional on both sides,” said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, who recounted a story of being locked in a jail during Mississippi’s civil rights struggle.
Voter identification has polarized Mississippi lawmakers for years. Some want it, saying it would help curtail voter fraud; others, especially those who remember poll taxes and other measures to keep blacks from voting, say it would intimidate black voters.
Many lawmakers, black and white, left the Capitol Thursday night saying they understood each others’ view better.
“Let us all come together and share in God’s grace,” said Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point.