Mississippi Democrats and Republicans can
stop nonparty members from voting in their primary elections, a
federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper issued the ruling late
Friday in lawsuit filed by plaintiffs wanting to keep non-Democrats
from voting in Democratic Party primaries.
While the lawsuit dealt with the Democratic Party, Pepper said
his ruling would apply to the GOP as well.
"Mississippi's interests in preserving its present primary
system is substantially outweighed by the Mississippi Democratic
Party's First Amendment right of association and its corollary
right to disassociate," Pepper said.
Pepper denied a motion by Attorney General Jim Hood to dismiss
Plaintiffs attorney Ellis Turnage of Cleveland and Hood could
not be reached for comment Saturday. Secretary of State Eric Clark,
the state's chief election officer, said he had heard about the
ruling but could not comment until he had read it.
Pepper said the state must adopt a system of party registration
and require voters to carry a registration card and a photo ID to
the polls in primary elections. Pepper said voters not wanting to
register by party can designate themselves as unaffiliated, or
Pepper said his order would not apply to the 2007 statewide
elections. The party primaries are Aug. 7 with runoffs three weeks
later. The general election is Nov. 6.
Pepper gave the Legislature until April 1, 2008, to pass laws
implementing his order. He said the laws would be submitted to the
Justice Department for approval. The federal government oversees
changes in Mississippi election laws to ensure fairness to
Pepper said the attorney general's office should report back to
him by June 10, 2008, on what the Justice Department decides.
Mississippi voters do not now register by party. The courts have
ruled that people cannot vote in a Democratic primary and then turn
around and vote in Republican runoff, or vice versa.
State law says political parties conduct their own primaries.
"Though the current primary system in Mississippi may have
worked well through the many years Mississippi was effectively a
one-party state, it is now unconstitutionally antiquated with the
advent of a two-party system in Mississippi," Pepper wrote.
Voter ID has been a controversial issue in Mississippi. Several
voter ID bills have died in the Mississippi Legislature over the
past dozen years, and the issue already is being raised by several
GOP candidates for statewide office this year.
Supporters of the issue say requiring ID would ensure that
people don't vote multiple times or cast ballots under others'
Opponents say there's no proof that people have been
masquerading as others at the polls. They also say that requiring
ID could intimidate older black Mississippians, who for decades
faced poll taxes and other Jim Crow laws that kept them from
Pepper said carrying a photo ID should not be a burden to
Mississippi voters. He said photo identification is required to
drive, open a bank account, cash a check, get a job or apply for
"Without the requirement of a photo ID, there would be room for
dishonesty which would call into question the security of the
election process," he said.
Pepper said he will not order voter ID for general elections.
"That is for the Mississippi Legislature to decide," he said.
The plaintiffs had argued in their lawsuit that Mississippi law
compels the Democratic Party "to permit nonmembers to vote in its
primaries, allows party raiding and causes the dilution of
Democratic voting strength in primary elections."
They said the law thwarts the party's effort to select
candidates for the general election ballot who best represent the
The attorney general's office said the plaintiffs provided no