Bills to protect Tennessee voters die along party lines
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Senate Democrats fought for the rights of thousands of Tennesseans on Tuesday as Senate Republicans voted against legislation to tear down barriers to the ballot box.
“We should be making it easier for our citizens to vote, not harder,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney said. “The most sacred right should not be the most difficult one to exercise.”
Republicans in the Senate State and Local Committee voted in lockstep against two bills that would have protected Tennesseans from disenfranchisement. Senate Bill 2692 by State Sen. Joe Haynes would have allowed any registered voter in Tennessee to vote by absentee ballot. Senate Bill 2139 by Sen. Finney would have repealed the requirement of a photo ID in order to vote.
Both proposals failed 6-3, with all six Republicans voting against both measures.
Elections Coordinator Mark Goins testified Tuesday that approximately 20,000 Tennesseans who did not have a photo ID have obtained one, meaning at least 106,000 registered Tennessee voters still do not have a valid photo ID.
The voter photo ID requirement targets college students, makes it harder on rural voters and sets up hurdles for senior citizens, including veterans. More than half of Tennessee counties do not have a driver center to produce photo IDs, and college IDs are explicitly banned. Qualifying for the free photo ID requires several pieces of supporting documentation, many of which are not free to obtain.
Opponents of the bills on Tuesday cited examples of voter fraud that did not involve a photo ID, such as the use of names of deceased voters and fraud committed by poll workers.
“If someone wants to commit voter fraud, they are still going to commit fraud even with this requirement,” Finney said. “The Coordinator of Elections has yet to point to a case where photo ID prevented or would prevent fraud. The very examples that opponents of this bill used were the result of poll workers breaking the law. A photo ID won’t prevent that.”