Legislation aims to end burden on seniors, students and rural voters
NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic Chairman Lowe Finney and House Democratic Chairman Mike Turner announced Wednesday that they have filed legislation to repeal a government-issued voter photo identification mandate that threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans.
“We have a duty as lawmakers to protect the ballot box, but we also have a duty to protect Tennessee citizens’ ability to vote,” Finney said. “This new requirement will put hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans in danger of losing their right to vote. It’s our job to defend that right.”
The legislation, filed Wednesday, would repeal a recently passed law that requires every voter to show government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote. According to the Department of Safety, 675,000 Tennesseans of voting age do not have the photo identification now necessary to vote.
Obtaining a valid, government-issued photo ID card has proven difficult, if not impossible, for many Tennesseans, including rural voters in 53 counties who have no driver services center in their county; hardworking Tennesseans who can’t spend hours away from their jobs to stand in line for a new card; and senior citizens who don’t have the necessary documents to satisfy the stiff requirements needed to obtain a photo ID.
The repeal legislation was filed the day after sponsors of the government-issued photo ID requirement held a press call regarding the new law. Media members asked lawmakers why they specifically banned college photo ID cards – even those issued by state-run colleges and universities.
The bill sponsors claimed that college ID fraud was rampant, even as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that fraud was down 24 percent on Tennessee college campuses last year. There were 26 impersonation offenses (falsely representing one’s identity or position for gain), accounting for 0.4 percent of all campus-related crime across the state.
“I’m not satisfied with the reasons given for this mandate,” Turner said. “We should be working to reduce barriers to the ballot box for citizens. This law puts up walls, and we intend to tear them down.”
Earlier this month, 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.
Those documents included a photo ID card issued by the Chattanooga Police Department to residents of her public housing complex. Under the new law, Cooper’s public housing photo ID does not qualify as sufficient identification.
“What happened to Dorothy Cooper could have happened to any of our senior citizens. That’s shameful and unacceptable,” said State Representative JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga. “This law is a solution in search of problems, and it’s already creating them.”