By Ida Brown
More than half of the 90,000 signatures needed to get a Voter ID Initiative on ballot next year have been gathered, according to Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
"Last time I checked, they were approaching 55,000 signatures," said Hosemann.
The Republican party is in charge of getting the signatures; the secretary of state's office will have to confirm them.
"Of those, they have to be equally divided between five congressional districts. So you could have 25,000 in one (district) and 6,000 in another and you wouldn't make the requirements for the initiative," he said.
A Web site has been set up to track each signature by district. The required signatures must be gathered by Feb. 14, 2010, to get the initiative on the 2011 ballot.
"I'm encouraged by the fact that we are at 55,000; I wish we were more," Hosemann said. "I think clearly everybody I talked to is very favorably inclined; the great majority of Mississippians are very favorably inclined to have a reasonable voter ID requirement."
However, getting those individuals' signatures has been a challenge. Hosemann said a grassroots effort will probably bring it to fruition.
"I think that's what you'll see during the last couple of months that we have to get these signatures," he said. "A grassroots effort where you'll see people who have an interest in this – Republicans, Democrats and all others – being voted on in 2011. I think you'll see them hitting the streets in the last push to get to 90,000."
Hosemann said voter trends statewide and locally – such as turnout and registration – have shown some change, particularly last year.
"We had a phenomenal response last year. We had a contested Republican primary for president, and a contested Democratic primary. Those drove the numbers much higher, in the hundreds of thousands higher than we've really ever had before in Mississippi," he said.
In addition to higher numbers in voting, there also was an increase among target groups, particularly ages 18-30.
"That was a great trend because we had a lot of groups that we have targeted over the years, who haven't necessarily responded – particularly young people," Hosemann said. "They took an interest in the last election and they came to vote."
However, the statesman expressed concern about maintaining momentum in that group
"It is very important for me to make sure that they feel enfranchised in their government," he said.
During the last municipal elections, voter turnout was rarely more than 50 percent.
"Even in hotly contested elections," he said.
Hosemann said he does not know how to convey the importance of voting to citizens, especially young people.
"That right to vote is so critical, that we need for them to understand that every time there is an election only 1 out 3 people goes to vote," he said. "We haven't been successful in doing that and I have some concerns."
Hosemann is considering a national program kicked off by the National Association of Secretarys of State on keeping voters active in the political process.
"This is done by identifying them and making sure that we have messages and reminders and things that we do going into elections that are targeted to those groups," he said.