Nearly four out of five provisional ballots cast in Tennessee in November were tossed out, according to statewide data. The Tennessean says this indicates that measures meant to ensure all legitimate votes were included resulted in only a few more being counted. Only 1,623, or 23 percent, of the 7,097 paper provisional ballots cast by people who experienced trouble at the polls during the Nov. 6 general election were ruled legitimate by election officials, figures compiled by state election officials show.
The numbers suggest that at least some voters were disenfranchised by steps Republicans took before the 2012 elections, opponents say.
“People ought not to have to fight to vote in a democratic society,” said George Barrett, a Nashville civil rights attorney who is challenging the state’s photo identification law.
Republicans pushed the law through the legislature in 2011 as part of a nationwide attempt to ensure voter integrity, but Barrett and others have called it an attempt to deter voting among traditionally Democratic constituencies.
Election officials say the figures also show that only two-tenths of 1 percent of the 2.4 million Tennesseans who cast ballots in November actually ran into problems when they went to vote, which they take as an indication that the voter ID law worked how it was supposed to.
“I’d like to get to the point where it’s even lower,” said Mark Goins, Tennessee’s coordinator of elections, “but I’ll take this number when you look at the full scale of things.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Election officials have been making Shelby County early voters who show only a Memphis library card as their photo identification cast a provisional ballot, and an attorney for the city on Monday demanded the practice stop.
Attorney George Barrett wrote in a cease and desist letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper that state election officials are in “defiance” of a court order and the city of Memphis will go to court if the provisional ballot policy doesn’t stop.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last week that the voter ID law is constitutional but also said the Memphis library card qualifies as a government-issued photo ID. In a separate order it directed the state to tell election officials in Shelby County to accept the library card ID.
State officials appealed to the state Supreme Court on Friday, arguing that the Memphis library ID shouldn’t be allowed because it wasn’t issued by state government.
Robert Meyers, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, said Monday that he’s working to find out how many voters have been given provisional ballots after showing their Memphis library card during early voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Shelby County voters who show only a library ID are being given provisional ballots on orders from the state coordinator of elections office, Meyers said.
“The state’s actions have already led to confusion among Memphis early voters, many of whom, including a city judge, have already attempted to vote with their photo library cards, only to be refused by poll workers,” Barrett’s letter said.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett contended last week that state attorneys had advised him that filing the appeal petition has stayed the appellate court order, which led to the provisional ballot procedures in Memphis.
Voters who cast provisional ballots have up to two business days after the election to return to their local election offices with proper identification, in order to have their votes counted.
As of Monday, the county had issued only a handful of provisional ballots, Meyers said. When told that their library IDs could only get them a provisional ballot, some voters showed their driver’s license and received a regular ballot, Meyers said.
“My sense is that there is a very low incidence” of voters getting provisional ballots after showing their library IDs, Meyers said.
Legal action against the photo ID law was initiated when 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 appeals 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 enough to prove identity.
In their Supreme Court appeal, lawyers for Hargett and state elections coordinator Mark Goins said the high court needs to determine whether the voter ID law that took effect this year allows for local government ID.
Lawyers for the city argued in their response that the appeals court correctly decided that the library IDs meet the definition of “evidence of identification” in state law.
The Supreme Court set an expedited schedule for filings in the appeal but hasn’t yet said if it will hear the case.
According to WPLN, 285 Tennessee voters saw their ballots put on hold in the state primaries Tuesday because they didn’t have proper photo ID under a new law – and some of those votes won’t be counted. Voters without the required ID were instead allowed to cast provisional ballots. Those ballots were set aside, while voters had two days to come back with an ID to make them count How many voters did so isn’t clear yet, but State Election Coordinator Mark Goins says some didn’t bother.
“Of course, some individuals may not return because their candidate won. If their candidate won they’re more likely to not return, or if there’s a wide margin separating those candidates.”
Goins also says impersonators trying to vote under an assumed name might not come back over a provisional ballot, noting the new law is meant to prevent voter fraud. Critics have argued that kind of fraud is more rare than being struck by lightning, and that the requirement might have steered some voters away, without even casting a provisional ballot.
Goins says the 285 provisional ballots cast is miniscule given the more than 620 thousand Tennesseans that voted. For all the concerns over the new ID requirement, Goins says, “the sky didn’t fall.”