A federal court judge Wednesday denied the City of Memphis’ request for an immediate order to force Shelby County election officials to accept the new public library photo identification cards for voting purposes.
Further from Richard Locker:
However, U.S. Dist. Judge Kevin H. Sharp did schedule a full hearing on the issue for Aug. 2 and also encouraged state officials to notify election officials that they should not discourage people with the new library photo cards from casting provisional ballots in the Aug. 2 elections and its early voting period, which ends Saturday.
Lawyers for the city told the judge that they took two people with the library cards to vote at three different early voting precincts and they were discouraged from casting provisional ballots at all three but were finally allowed to vote after about 20 minutes of discussion at each location.
Deputy state Atty. Gen. Steve Hart acknowledged that out of 35,963 early votes cast in Shelby County, only two have been by provisional ballot.
But people who cast provisional ballots must go to the election commission within two business days after the election — in this case, by Aug. 6 — to present valid photo IDs as required by state law this year for the first time, or else the votes will not be counted.
The City of Memphis and a Memphis resident, Daphne Turner-Golden, filed a lawsuit in federal court here Tuesday arguing that the new Memphis-Shelby County Public library photo ID cards should be valid for voting purposes because they are issued by a “state entity,” as required in Tennessee’s new voter photo ID law, which went into effect this year.
“The library is a state entity. The municipality is a state entity,” Deputy City Atty. Regina Morrison Newman told reporters after the 50-minute hearing. The plaintiffs asked for a temporary restraining order to force the election commission to accept the library cards as a valid photo ID for voting purposes.
Judge Sharp denied that request, saying the plaintiffs did not prove there would be immediate and irreparable harm if the order was not issued. He said that as long as people are allowed to cast provisional ballots until a full hearing can be held Aug. 2 — election day — whatever harm there is won’t be irreparable.
But the judge also added that he is “concerned” that the Tennessee legislature “decided to fix a problem that doesn’t appear to exist and made it more difficult for people to vote.”
Note: A statement from Secretary of State Tre Hargett is below.
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed challenging the application of the state’s photo identification law for voters.
Today, a judge denied a temporary restraining order in that lawsuit. The net effect of the judge’s decision is that the City of Memphis library cards will not be accepted at the polls as valid state photo ID for voting purposes. The plaintiffs argued a library card with a photo issued by the City of Memphis library was a state photo ID.
“The legislature clearly intended that only state or federal photo IDs can be used, which prevents us from accepting county or city IDs,” said Secretary of State Tre Hargett. “Our Division of Elections remains ready to assist any voter with questions about how they may obtain a free photo ID for voting from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.”
A voter who does not present a state- or federally-issued photo ID at the polls will not be turned away, but will receive a provisional ballot. However, the voter will need to return to the local election commission office within two business days after the election and present a state- or federally-issued photo ID in order for the provisional ballot to be counted.
Examples of acceptable forms of ID, whether current or expired, include driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs and other state or federal government photo ID cards. College student IDs are not acceptable. Nowhere in the photo ID law is a city or county ID listed as an example of an acceptable ID.
For more information, please visit www.GoVoteTN.com or call the Division of Elections toll-free at 1-877-850-4959.