Last week, Tennessee held its Presidential Preference Primary. Unlike in the past, our state had a significant impact on the GOP presidential race. Tennessee for a brief moment once again became the focus of our national political conversation.
But while the horserace politics were very exciting and the national attention flattering, the biggest story of our primary was missed by the visiting national press: the overwhelming success of our new voter ID law.
From the introduction of this law, opponents have been screaming that the sky was falling in ways that would shame Chicken Little. People would be disenfranchised, they insisted. Elderly people and marginal populations would be turned away and left behind, they proclaimed.
To listen to some detractors you would think that the end of democracy as we knew it was literally at hand. But in reality, Election Day came and Election Day went with headlines in paper after paper relating how smoothly the process had gone.
Simply put, “The Great Disenfranchisement of Tennessee” did not materialize. Voters were not turned away en masse. It was, in many ways, just like any other election day. Except on this day Tennessee citizens knew for sure their votes — and only their votes — counted.
Much of the praise for this success goes to our Secretary of State Tre Hargett and his Election Coordinator Mark Goins. They engaged the public in an unprecedented way to inform our citizens of this new law. They let folks know exactly what forms of ID were acceptable and which weren’t. They let everyone know that voters who are residents of a licensed nursing home who vote at the facility are exempt. They told citizens that voters who are hospitalized are exempt. They informed the people that those with a religious objection to being photographed are exempt.
And by Election Day, all of Tennessee knew that if they could not afford one the state would supply them, free of charge, a photo ID with which to vote.
Hargett and Goins and groups like the Tennessee AARP took the message from Memphis to Mountain City. They answered phone calls and emails, held townhalls and generally made themselves available in every way to inform our state about this new law.
Passing the law was the easy part. Educating the public was the hard part and the Department of State and the Division of Elections did the work. They did Tennessee proud.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Bill Gibbons, the Department of Safety also deserves thanks for their efforts keeping drivers license stations open and ready for business so that anyone who needed one could get an ID to vote.
Most of all, however, I believe it is the citizens of Tennessee who deserve thanks. While Tennessee liberals engaged in histrionic weeping about unfairness, voters from all demographic groups stood tall and refused to believe the hype.
If you were to read the pre-Election Day newspapers on this issue you would think Tennessee was a hairs-length away from the installation of an authoritarian dictator. But the people were not persuaded.
In poll after poll, both scientific and otherwise, people have said not only was this law needed, it was required. I cannot begin to tell you how many regular folks have come up to me regarding this issue during the past year, grabbed my arm and said simply, “Thank you.”
The fact that Tennessee’s implementation of this law went smoothly does not surprise me. This state makes me proud on a daily basis — this is just par for the course.
In the end, this law was always about common sense. As desperately as they may have tried, carping critics in the press corps could not hide from regular folks the obvious necessity of this law.
Unfortunately, a few of my friends in the legislature have fallen prey to left-wing pressure. Just this week, Democrats – with the help of one Republican – passed out of a subcommittee a measure that would repeal the law.
This is unfortunate. Let me be clear: Voter ID is the law of the land in Tennessee and as long as I am Lt. Governor it will stay that way. This last ditch, last gasp attempt to overturn the will of the people will not bear fruit. All the Left has done is possibly confuse voters as to the status of the law — potentially harming the accomplishments of those who successfully educated the public on the law.
What this rag-tag repeal effort proves is that despite our Republican Majority conservatives still have much work left to do. Clearly, there are still those in the legislature so disconnected from common sense and their constituents that they seek to repeal a law which is measured, appropriate and proven to work.
You need a photo ID to rent a car, get on an airplane or watch a Rated R movie -there is no reason why you should not need one to vote.
Citizens deserve the right to vote and they deserve to have that vote counted. They deserve to know if the person at the voting machine beside them is truly qualified to be there.
It’s not a hard concept. This law didn’t suppress anything on March 6 other than fraud, uncertainty and corruption. This is as it should be — especially in Tennessee.