Lawmakers who spearheaded a new law requiring voters to bring a photo ID with them to the polls told reporters Tuesday that public outcry over the requirement is being blown out of proportion.
“It’s just a few being louder than others,” Senate Caucus chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said.
Critics of the law have said the new requirement disenfranchises the poor, elderly and those without the means to travel to the DMV to get photo identification.
GOP lawmakers pointed to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling on Indiana’s voter ID law, which found that requiring voters to present a photo ID at the polls presents “only a limited burden on voters’ rights.”
“The Supreme Court did say that what is important is that people are able to obtain a free ID so they could vote. That’s what the issue is, and we took care of that,” said Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who sponsored the bill in the House.
The legislature this spring OK’ed a law that requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID when they cast their ballots. The law, opposed by Democrats, kicks in Jan. 1 and will first be used in the March primaries.
Last summer, 92 percent of 400 Tennesseans surveyed in a state Republican Party poll indicated they were in favor of a photo ID law, according to party officials. Leading Republicans also point to a 2009 poll commissioned by Fox News that indicates 92 percent of Republicans, 76 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of independents agree that “requiring voters to show photo identification at their polling places before being allowed to vote is a good idea because it helps avoid fraud.” (Question 45, 46) The poll was conducted by Opinion Dynamics.
The new Tennessee law’s opponents maintain that discontent is high and widespread.
“You can write a poll that shows anything to you,” said Chip Forrester, Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, who is pushing for a repeal of the law. “If our conversations with voters are any indication of concern, there is tremendous push-back against this photo ID.”
In a teleconference Tuesday, election officials said 126,000 people have driver’s licenses that lack a photo, and many have other forms of ID that will pass on election day, such as expired driver’s licenses, passports and military IDs. Forrester argues the number of voting age Tennesseans in need of a photo ID to vote is much higher, in the ballpark of 675,000 people.
Voters may obtain a free photo ID at any local DMV. The Department of Safety has opened up a window at the DMV just for ID seekers, opened some offices on Saturdays and authorized some county clerks’ offices to issue the identification.
Critics complain that the lines at the DMVs are still too long and that people in rural areas sometimes need to travel out of their county simply to pick up a photo ID.