Group Pushes Repeal of Photo ID; Legislators Make Make Changes Instead

A new coalition was launched Tuesday with the goal of repealing Tennessee’s law requiring a photo ID for voting but legislators instead raised the possibility of enacting revisions that would ease the path to the polls for some.
Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, who sponsored the original photo ID law approved by the Legislature earlier this year, said he and other Republicans would adamantly oppose the repeal sought by a coalition called No Barriers to the Ballot Box.
But Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, proposed one change himself. He filed a bill Tuesday that would allow all voters over age 60 to cast their ballots on an absentee basis and avoid presentation of a photo ID.

Currently, about 126,000 registered Tennessee votes have a driver’s license with no photograph on it, which means they cannot be used for voting. Current law also says anyone over age 65 can automatically vote absentee. Ketron’s bill thus grants the same privilege to those between 60 and 65, sparing them the need to get one of the photo ID cards being made available free at driver’s license stations.
Ketron also said he would also support a change in current law to allow voters suffering mental disability to vote absentee and is “open” to a proposal by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson to allow photo ID cards issued by city and county governments to serve as a valid identification for voting. The current law requires a photo ID issued by the state or federal government.
Finney also proposed changing the law to allow identification cards issued by colleges and universities as valid identification for voting. Ketron opposed that idea, saying that use of false cards by college students is so widespread the cards are an unreliable.
Finney and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville say they will push to repeal the law. In a letter criticizing Ketron last week, Turner said the photo ID law is aimed at disenfranchising voters seen as likely to support Democrats.
“This law disenfranchises the elderly, the poor and anyone that exclusively uses public transportation. Not only this, but there are several counties in Tennessee that don’t have driver license stations. In other words, many Tennesseans who are without transportation will simply lose their voting rights,” said Turner.
Ketron and Finney are both members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which held hearings on the voter ID bill and efforts to help voters deal with it.
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins told the panel they are confident that voters are being made aware of the new law and those without a photo ID will have an opportunity to get one before next year’s elections. The law takes effect Jan. 1.
Goins said plans call for all 126,000 voters holding a driver’s license with no photograph to be contacted and told about the new by their local election commission before the March 6, 2012 presidential preference primary.
Gibbons said his department is working with about 30 county court clerks to have them issue free photo ID cards without charging $4 fee they typically charge for a license renewal. Also, persons getting the free ID at driver’s license stations will be given “express” treatment, he said, meaning they may not have to wait as long for service. The average wait time for a driver’s license is 53 minutes statewide, according to the Department of Safety.
As things stand now, persons wanting a free ID for voting must go to a state driver’s license station. Many counties have no station, meaning the person must travel some distance to get an ID for voting.
Spokesman for groups representing the mentally ill and the blind told the legislative committee Tuesday that the transportation requirement presents a major hurdle for disabled voters.
Gregory Fox, executive director of the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association, said 5,000 to 6,000 persons live in group homes statewide where they have surrendered their financial resources in exchange for care. Most want to vote, he said, but have no photo ID and would have great difficulty in arranging transportation to get one.
That prompted both Ketron and Finney to declare support for changing current law to allow such persons to vote absentee. Current law allows persons with a physical disability to vote absentee, but does not apply to those with mental disabilities.
The new coalition seeking repeal of the law includes Fox’s organization along with the Tennessee Citizen Action, the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, League of Women Voters in Nashville and the NAACP. The group will seek signatures statewide on a petition declaring the law creates “artifical and insurmountable barriers to the ballot box” for many citizens.
Finney questioned Goins on why college ID cards were not acceptable for voting. Goins said Reps. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, and Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, both with law enforcement background, proposed the ban because they knew of multiple cases of students using fake ID to obtain alcoholic beverages.
During the meeting, Finney said the college ID ban seems unreasonable, “excluding an entire segment of the population based on very antidotal evidence.” Ketron replied that other states also exclude student ID and noted that students may otherwise be ineligible to vote, perhaps because they are not citizens.
In an interview afterwards, Ketron said he believes two-thirds of college students who are too young to purchase alcohol already have fake ID and that he had met a college student body president who had equipment for making false college cards.
He also said college and university ID cards are in multiple forms and could be confusing to poll workers, who will be trained in what ID is acceptable by next year’s elections.

One thought on “Group Pushes Repeal of Photo ID; Legislators Make Make Changes Instead

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