A new state law going into effect January 1 requires Tennessee voters, including those already registered to vote, to have a valid state or federal government photo ID to vote. State college IDs will not be accepted while work IDs issued to faculty and staff of state-run colleges will be accepted. Exceptions in the law include people who vote absentee by mail, people living in nursing homes or hospitals and state residents with religious objections to being photographed.
Tennessee ranks 49th in terms of eligible voters who actually vote, according to the U.S. Election Project. It’s quite possible the new photo ID requirement will sink Tennessee to the rank of worst in the nation. Election related costs under the new law could increase by more than 50 percent.
Republican Party officials say the new law is necessary to combat voter fraud while Democrats say it’s intended to discourage the elderly, minorities, the disabled, the poor, and students from voting. The state Democratic Party is fighting to repeal the voter ID law.
A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that voter ID laws were intended to disenfranchise voters. They wrote in regard to the voter fraud myth, “Fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare, occurring .0009 percent of the time and less. National Weather Service data shows Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often. Voter fraud is most often invoked as a substantial problem in order to justify particular election policies. Chief among these is the proposal that individuals be required to show photo identification in order to vote — a policy that disenfranchises up to 10 percent of eligible citizens.”
Opponents of identification requirements have launched a petition drive urging legislators to reconsider. The coalition includes the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. Shelley Courington, AARP Tennessee advocacy director, said about the new requirements, “There are going to be hurdles on Election Day.” Rebublican state officials fired back, accusing foes of spreading misinformation about the law’s impact.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says the new law is “wildly popular.” The Republican leader of the Tennessee Senate said in a Facebook posting, “This is not about suppression, it is about protection.”
Democrats have announced they’re initiating a yearlong effort to educate as many as 675,000 voters they say are at risk of being denied the vote. This number includes approximately 126,000 registered voters who have driver’s licenses without photos. Drivers ages 60 and older have the option of renewing their Tennessee drivers license without getting a new picture made during the renewal. Voters can use an expired license if it has a photograph.
The new law requires that the state issue free photo IDs to those who request one. Lee and Phyllis Campbell went to a driver services center in Murfreesboro and asked for a free photo id. “The lady said well why don’t you just get a duplicate license, it would be just $8, and it wouldn’t be as much paperwork,” said Lee Campbell when he and his wife testified before Congress about the controversial law.
Recently, Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year old Chattanooga resident, went to a Tennessee driver service center to get her free, state-issued voter ID. The clerk rejected Cooper’s application because her birth certificate, the required primary identification she had, didn’t have her married name on it. And Cooper is among many who have come forward with problems.
Those who cannot show proper ID when voting will receive a provisional ballot. They will then have four days to get a government-issued ID and must present it to the Election Commission for their vote to count. Nationwide in the 2004 election, at least 1.9 million provisional ballots were cast, and 676,000 were never counted for various reasons.
In addition to Tennessee, voter photo ID laws have passed this year in Kansas, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. All but Rhode Island have Republican controlled legislatures and a Republican governor. Prior to 2011, there were only two states with strict photo ID laws, Georgia and Indiana.