MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — After winning a ruling that upheld Tennessee’s new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, election officials said they will ask the state Supreme Court to step in because the decision also ordered them to accept an ID issued by the Memphis public library.
The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the law was constitutional but it also said the library card qualified as a government-issued photo ID. The court issued a separate order requiring election officials to immediately accept the Memphis library cards.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett praised much of the ruling even as he announced the decision to file an appeal on Friday.
“They’ve called it a burden on voting and once again the judiciary has said not it’s not,” Hargett said.
The city of Memphis and two voters who lacked photo ID and cast provisional ballots during the August primary sued in both federal and state court to stop the law that took effect this year.
The state’s decision to seek an appeal underscores how voter ID has been a top priority among the Republicans who control state government because a new filing could open the way for the Tennessee Supreme Court to strike down the entire law.
Attorney Douglas Johnston said he is consulting with his client, the City of Memphis, about whether to also appeal the parts of the ruling that upheld the voter ID law.
“More than likely they’re going to want to appeal it themselves,” he said. “I’m just not sure the Supreme Court can get it done in the short amount of time before the election.”
The appeals court opinion acknowledged the fierce fight over the law.
“We note that the Voter Photo ID Act has created much controversy and aroused intense feelings among both its supporters and its detractors. The courts do not question the General Assembly’s motives or concern themselves with the General Assembly’s policy judgments,” the opinion said.
Hargett said that as soon as the appeal is filed, it will stay the order to accept the Memphis library ID. Election coordinator Mark Goins said state attorneys advised his office that voters who show the library card ID will have to cast provisional ballots once the appeal is filed.
Johnston disagreed with that interpretation and said the state will be in violation of the court’s order if it forces voters with a library ID to cast provisional ballots.
“That’s just not good enough,” he said.
Johnston said that the state would have to file a specific request to the Supreme Court to halt the order. He also stressed that the high court must first agree to accept an appeal before any challenge can be filed.
The city of Memphis and two voters who lacked photo ID and cast provisional ballots during the August primary sued to stop the law. They had argued that the photo ID requirement violates the state constitution, which lists the requirements to vote as proof of age, citizenship, residency and registration.
The state had argued that the library ID wasn’t valid because it wasn’t issued by state government.
The court cited Tennessee case law in finding that the city of Memphis is a branch of the state, so the library card, which was redesigned this year to include a photo, is sufficient for proving identity. It said election laws are intended to secure the freedom and purity of the ballot while encouraging maximum voting participation.
“Allowing local governments to produce photographic identification cards that can be used as identification for voters at the polls is consistent with and furthers both of these goals,” the opinion said.
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. led the push to get the library cards approved as valid ID. Before the state announced its appeal, Wharton called the decision “truly historic.”
“It was our intent to make voting easier, not more difficult,” Wharton said in a statement. “In so doing, we knew that we were fighting this battle not just for the citizens of Memphis, but for every city and community across Tennessee where you have seniors, the disabled, and people in general in need of greater access and flexibility in obtaining a valid ID for voting.”