Judge rules that state Dems, GOP can prevent non-party members from voting in primaries

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

the lawsuit.

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

Social Security.

"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

party's interests.

The attorney general's office said the plaintiffs provided no

examples of any such problems.