Partisan Potshots Pouring Forth Over Photo ID Law

Rep. Mike Turner is rejecting Republican attacks that he waffled on opposing the state’s new photo ID law and instead says the GOP should put its money where its mouth is.

If Republicans want to prove they don’t seek to disenfranchise voters, they need to spend as much as $8 million in taxpayer dollars to ensure that every voter can get to and from the DMV for a photo ID and better train people in the state’s driver’s license centers or repeal the law, Turner, of Old Hickory said. Turner introduced a repeal bill this month.

Republicans say there’s nothing wrong with the photo ID law.

“Be it polling, e-mails, phone calls or simply constituents stopping us on the street, support for the measure is strong,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a Facebook post Wednesday railing against Democrats for telling “lies” about what he calls a “wildly popular” new law.

“The photo ID law suppresses nothing other than voter fraud. We expect in a modern republic such as ours to have faith in the integrity of our electoral process,” he said.

The Tennessee Republican Party pegged Turner as a “flip-flopper” last week by highlighting video of the House Democratic Party chairman saying he’s open to requiring voters bring photo IDs to vote.

“I don’t have a problem with this bill at all if we’re gonna pay for it,” Turner said in the April 5 State and Local Government Committee meeting. “Now, if you’re not willing to go get a free ID, then maybe, you know, you shouldn’t deserve to vote.”

Even though the Legislature funded the photo IDs to the tune of $438,000, Turner told TNReport this week the state should spend an amount in the ballpark of the $10 million Indiana spent on a similar law it passed in 2005.

“We were trying to get them to fund it. As it turns out, they didn’t fund it at the proper level. Not anywhere close to the proper level,” Turner said.

In four years, Indiana distributed more than 770,000 free photo IDs to voters costing $10 million based on materials, printing and manpower costs, according to Jeremy Burton, election outreach manager for Indiana’s Election Division.

“We believe the photo ID law has been good, not bad, for elections,” Burton told TNReport in a telephone interview this week. “Hoosiers expect to show photo ID at the polls now. It’s part of our routine now, we’re used to it. … We’ve worked really hard to not let this law stop anybody from voting.”

Tennessee Republicans say there’s adequate funding allotted for “free” photo IDs within this year’s budget.

“Everyday, more and more Tennesseans are finding out they already have a valid photo ID. Those that don’t are able to quickly and easily secure a free ID and Safety has all the resources they need to ensure that happens,” said House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who spent much of Thursday trading barbs about the ID law with House Democratic Party Leader Craig Fitzhugh on Twitter.

So far, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security has issued 2,385 free photo IDs to voters, and agency spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said the department does “not anticipate a need for additional funding this year or in the future.”

With Republicans currently in rock solid control of the General Assembly, it’s unlikely Democrats will garner enough votes in both chambers to void the law kicking in Jan. 1, especially absent any statistics showing it’s unpopular among voters.

A poll conducted recently by Middle Tennessee State University Monday did not ask respondents whether they favor or oppose the controversial voter ID law, but instead quizzed them on what IDs would work on election day.

Polling staff finalized the questions less than a week before Turner and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, filed legislation to repeal the voter ID law and didn’t think public opinion on the matter was a particularly relevant question to ask right then, said Ken Blake, the poll director. Given the voting requirements were already on the books — and there was no repeal officially on the table — they chose to focus on public understanding of how the law works, he said. Groups like Tennessee Citizen Action and the Tennessee ACLU had been circulating a petition to build support for a repeal for weeks.

“Polling is all about the question you wish you had asked,” said Blake.

Of the 669 people surveyed, 71 percent knew about the new photo ID requirements. Almost all understood that a driver’s license with a photo will be accepted at the polls, but just 14 percent of people knew that an expired driver’s license would work, too.

Pollsters also asked several other random questions. Only about half of respondents knew that an employee ID issued by a major automaker would not pass muster. The law specifies that only certain government IDs will be accepted.

But 78 percent knew a military ID would be accepted.

The conclusion from the results: People know the new law’s out there, but they aren’t sure what they’ll need at the voting booth, said Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU poll.

“People have this nebulous understanding of it. They know there’s this new law and it’s about voter IDs, but they are still unclear under our measurement of what’s required of them,” said Reineke.

If repeal proposals are still alive next spring when MTSU launches its next poll, asking what people think of the new law could make it to the survey, Blake said.

[View the story “Trading Barbs on Voter ID” on Storify]