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Memphis Library Cards OK for Voter ID, Court Finds

Cards issued by the Memphis Public Library are acceptable identification for voting purposes, the state Court of Appeals determined in a ruling today that also upheld Tennessee’s photo ID law.

The 18-page opinion was a partial victory for the city, which had pushed to have the new law declared unconstitutional but, if it was upheld, to force election officials to accept the library cards, which include a photo.

The court determined that the city of Memphis qualifies as “a branch, department, agency or entity of this state,” the standard written into law in 2011 by the Legislature. Lawmakers said voters could cast ballots using photo IDs issued by such entities, or by other states or the federal government.

The city in its argument for finding the law unconstitutional had said it imposed undue costs on voters and violated the equal protection clause since voters casting mail-in ballots are not required to show photo ID.

The court dismissed those assertions.

The requirement that prospective voters present photographic identification to vote in person is not an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote under the Tennessee Constitution.

More from the decision:

In absentee voting, the voter does not appear before an election official and, therefore, cannot present photographic identification.

Such a requirement in the context of absentee voting would be nonsensical. We hold that requiring in-person voters to provide photographic identification while not requiring absentee voters to do so does not violate Article XI, Sec. 8 of the Tennessee Constitution.

Rep. Debra Maggart, who sponsored the photo ID law, criticized the decision.

“While I am encouraged our law was ruled constitutional, the fact the Court decided to add to it is disappointing,” Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said in a statement. “Not only has the Court gone beyond the clear intent of the law by allowing library cards, it has also created an exception for the city of Memphis that falls below the standard for the rest of Tennessee. This is the definition of ‘legislating from the bench’ and, frankly, is unacceptable.”

Maggart won’t be around to push back against the court with any legislation after being defeated in the August primary by newcomer Courtney Rogers.

Two GOP lawmakers who will be, and will wield far-reaching power to shape any such legislation, responded to the ruling.

“I might not have ruled that way, but they are the court. They are the law of the land,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in an interview with TNReport. Harwell said she would need to review the court’s decision before commenting further but that she would not be surprised if the Legislature took action.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the court had not properly interpreted the will of the Legislature.

“While allowing library cards clearly violates the legislative intent of this law, the court rightly affirmed the law’s constitutionality,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement.

Tennessee Citizen Action, a left-leaning advocacy group that has opposed the law, cheered the portion of the ruling allowing for library cards.

“It should send a clear message to the Tennessee State Legislature that their attempts last session to limit allowable IDs to only a handful was both restrictive and excessive,” Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, said in a statement.

Most Tennesseans support the law, according to a Middle Tennessee State University poll taken earlier this year.

The state’s photo ID law is among the strictest in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven states require photo identification at the polls. In six others, photo ID laws are being litigated or still require approval from the Justice Department.

Nineteen states require nonphoto identification at the polls, according to the NCSL.