Democrats Launch Their Own Voter Outreach; Deem State Effort ‘Woefully Inadequate’

Election officials are holding “voter outreach” programs across the state Tuesday to explain the Tennessee law requiring a photo ID for voting, but Democratic officials said today the official efforts are “woefully inadequate.”
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester, joined by Democratic legislators seeking repeal of the photo ID law, held a news conference Monday at the Legislative Plaza to announce the party will have its own “voter registration and education” effort starting Saturday.
All 95 county election commissions are hosting events today – most in a “town hall” format — where citizens can hear an explanation about the new law and ask questions. That effort is coordinated by the state Division of Elections, overseen by Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
Forrester said the Division of Elections effort is inadequate because it focuses on the 126,000 persons who are now registered to vote but hold driver’s licenses without a photo, which are not acceptable for voting under the new law.
Democrats say there are about 675,000 people potentially impacted by the law. That includes people over age 18 counted in the 2010 U.S. Census who are not currently registered voters plus the 126,000 registered voters with invalid driver licenses.
The new law effectively creates “another layer of bureaucracy” to discourage those not now registered to vote from doing so, the Democrats said. Forrester cited a report finding Tennessee already ranks 49th among states in the percentage of eligible voters casting ballots.
Forrester and the Democratic legislators say their education effort will target all eligible voters with the goal of getting them registered to vote as well as in compliance with the photo ID law. Free photo identification card for voting are being offered at drivers’ license stations with 2,385 such cards issued as of Oct. 24.
The Democratic effort will continue for a year, Forrester said, to counter a law that “effectively labels 675,000 Tennesseans as second-class citizens, good enough to pay taxes but not good enough to be a voter.”
Hargett, meanwhile, said the 95-county outreach effort coordinated by the Division of Elections “is massive and certain to reach a tremendous number of voters.”
(Note: The Democratic news release and a Senate Republican Caucus release on photo ID are below.)


News release from state Democratic Party:
Democratic leaders announced this week a statewide voter registration and education plan to combat voter suppression stemming from the new Republican photo ID law.
“The law effectively labels 675,000 Tennesseans as second-class citizens–good enough to pay taxes but not good enough to be a voter–just because they don’t have a government-issued photo ID,” said Chip Forrester, chairman of the state Democratic Party. “We believe all Tennesseans are first-class citizens and there should be equal treatment for all eligible voters. To that end, over the next year, we’ll be working to empower citizens through registration and education.”
Democrats will kick off their yearlong voter registration and education efforts on Saturday, Nov. 5th with a Statewide Day of Action. There are about 20 voter registration drives scheduled for this weekend.
Volunteers who participate in the drives will encourage and help all eligible citizens register to be voters and educate them about the importance of voting and new election requirements.
“When voters participate, the people are the most powerful force in our democracy — not big banks and well-connected special interests,” Forrester said. “We want to put our democracy back where it belongs, in the hands of families, communities and people who work for a living.”
Tennessee ranked 49th in voter participation last year, according to the United States Election Project. Democratic leaders say they must improve Tennessee’s low election participation to curb the “red tide” that washed over Tennessee in recent elections.
Low voter turnout, Democrats say, will be made even worse by the voter ID law.
Democratic lawmakers are urging a full repeal of the new voter ID rule because they say the law adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to elections and could potentially discourage 675,000 Tennesseans, who lack a government-issued photo ID, from exercising their constitutional right to be a voter on Election Day, Forrester said.
Officials point to three known instances of eligible voters struggling to obtain a government-issued ID for voting as a strong case for repealing the law:
• Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Chattanooga woman who has voted for decades, was turned away from obtaining a photo ID despite producing multiple documents proving her identity. She has since obtained a valid ID.
• Virginia Lasater, a 91-year-old Murfeesboro woman who has voted for decades, was forced to stand at her DMV for hours, despite her need of a walking cane. She eventually left the center without an ID.
• Darwin Spinks, 86, a WWII and Korean War vet, was charged $8 for a voter photo ID in Murfreesboro. The ID should have been free.
Democrats question how many otherwise eligible voters have been turned away or discouraged by the new rules.
“By erecting barriers around the ballot box this year, Republicans clearly communicated they want fewer people involved in the democratic process,” Forrester said. “Through community-based voter registration drives, voter education and a legislative effort to repeal the voter ID law, Democrats are also sending a clear message: the more eligible voters participating in our democracy, the better.”

BACKGROUND
Why this law is dangerous
• The voter photo ID law effectively creates a second-class citizenship status for 675,000 Tennesseans — good enough to pay taxes, but not good enough to be a voter — just because they don’t have a government-issued photo ID.
• There are 53 counties with no Driver Service Center. That means rural voters and working voters have to drive to other counties for their photo ID and stand in line for hours, with no guarantee they will receive the ID. (See “Voter ID Problems” below)
• There are more than 675,000 Tennesseans of voting age that could potentially lose their constitutional right to be a voter as a result of this law. (See “Voter ID in Tennessee, by the numbers” below)
• This bill specifically excludes student college IDs, even those at state-run institutions. Public universities and colleges in Tennessee are tax-supported, public institutions, and the IDs issued by them should be considered state-issued IDs. Coupled with the fact that college IDs are not recognized as voter photo ID, the requirements for establishing residency make it all but impossible for students who are from out of state but now live in Tennessee to prove their residency because students who live in a dorm cannot produce an electric bill or a lease.
Voter ID Problems
• Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Chattanooga woman who has voted for decades, was turned away from obtaining a photo ID despite producing multiple documents proving her identity. She has since obtained a valid ID.
• Virginia Lasater, a 91-year-old Murfeesboro woman who has voted for decades, was forced to stand at her DMV for hours, despite her need of a walking cane. She eventually left the center without an ID.
• Darwin Spinks, 86, a WWII and Korean War vet, was charged $8 for a voter photo ID in Murfreesboro. The ID should have been free.
Voter ID in Tennessee, by the numbers:
• 675,000 Tennessee residents who either have non-photo IDs or no state-issued photo ID at all. [KnoxNews.com, 10/26/11] (These numbers are fully explained in the link.)
• 230,000 Tennesseans (registered and unregistered voters) who hold a non-photo driver license. [KnoxNews.com, 9/20/11]
• 126,000 seniors who are registered voters with non-photo driver license.[KnoxNews.com, 9/20/11]
• 47,000 Tennesseans who are registered to vote but do not have a driver license. [KnoxNews.com, 9/20/11]
• 1 percent: As of Oct. 27, the Department of Safety had issued 2,385 free photo IDs to voters — ONE PERCENT of only registered voters who lack a state-issued photo ID. [TNReport.com, 10/27/11]
Tennessee’s numbers coincide with the national trend reported by the Brennen Center for Justice.
• The Brennen Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reported that 11 percent of voting-age American citizens–and an even greater percentage of African American, low-income, and older citizens–do not have current and valid government-issued photo IDs.
• These findings have been confirmed by multiple independent studies.

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), October 31, 2011 — Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) said today that numbers provided by the Senate Democrat Caucus count illegal aliens and prisoners who have lost their voting rights among the number of what they term as possible “disenfranchised” voters under Tennessee’s new photo ID law. The formula, which Democrats released to certain media outlets last week, uses the 2010 U.S. Census to estimate how many voters do not have a photo ID.
“The census is a count of everyone residing in the United States,” says Census information posted on the U.S. Census website. “So even if you are not a U.S. citizen but you live and sleep in the U.S. most of the year, you will be counted in the census.” In addition, the Census count includes foreign students and those who are incarcerated in correctional facilities and who may have lost their voting rights if convicted of certain crimes.
Utilizing the Census as their source, the Democratic Caucus formula claimed that Tennessee has 689,301 people of voting age who don’t have a driver’s license or photo on their driver’s license.
“The whole reason for the law was to ensure that only eligible citizens vote in an election in Tennessee,” said Chairman Ketron. “We had tried to determine the criteria the Democrats used to make that their calculation. We knew the number was wrong but until we saw their data did not know that they included ineligible voters and others who already have authorized identification cards until it was released to the media. Now we understand why the statistics were so grossly out of line.”
“We don’t know whether their calculations are designed to sensationalize the number of people who may truly need photo identification or if they believe we should really open up our election process to illegal aliens. I would hope not — but both of these scenarios are concerning in protecting the integrity of elections in Tennessee. ”
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are over 140,000 illegal aliens in Tennessee.
Senator Ketron said the formula devised by Democrats also did not take into consideration those voters who had other forms of voter identification which would not be considered in a Census count. According to the Tennessee Election Commission, voters can use the following current or expired identification as long as it contains a photo: Tennessee driver’s license, U.S. passport, federal or state government-issued employee identification, U.S. Military ID, Veteran Identification card, and a state-issued handgun carry permit. In addition, the law makes exception for voters who vote absentee by mail, residents of a licensed nursing home or assisted living center who vote at the facility, those who are hospitalized, citizens with a religious objection to being photographed, and voters who are indigent and not able to obtain a photo ID without paying a fee. Those who do not have photo identification will be allowed to vote by using a provisional ballot and given an opportunity to show their identification within two days after the election.
“Nothing in that raw census number tells you whether or not a person has an expired license with a picture on it, a veterans card, or an old passport, all of which are approved identification for voting purposes,” added Ketron. “We want every single eligible voter in Tennessee to be able vote, including those who need photo identification. However, we take exception to the misinformation being distributed by opponents of law.”
“Our election officials are working hard to educate voters regarding the facts of the new voter ID requirement. There are 95 town hall meetings in every county in the state tomorrow. This is in addition to scores of meetings to educate the public that have already taken place. They should be commended for their tremendous efforts. Any statement to the contrary is ludicrous. We will continue to work towards that goal and to ensure that every Tennessee voter’s vote is counted and not suppressed by an ineligible voter who commits fraud,” he concluded.

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