Photo Voter Bill En Route to Senate Floor

Tennessee lawmakers are trying for a fourth year to require voters to bring a photo ID with them to the ballot box.

“When a dead person votes, when a convicted felon votes, it disenfranchises someone who did it legally,” Senate sponsor Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Opponents, including committee Democrats, Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union, told committee members they’re concerned that the elderly or poor who don’t have the means to get a state ID would be turned off from voting.

The bill excludes those voting from hospitals and nursing homes, instead requiring them to vote absentee. For those who don’t bring photo IDs to the polls, the measure allows for voting by provisional ballot or after filing an affidavit, according to the bill and bill summary:

Under this bill, except as described below, if a voter is unable to present the proper evidence of identification, then the voter will be entitled to vote by provisional ballot in the manner detailed in the bill. The provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter provides the proper evidence of identification to the administrator of elections or the administrator’s designee by the close of business on the second business day after the election. The board would have until the close of business on the fourth business day after the election to count any provisional ballot cast under this bill.

Under this bill, a voter who is indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without payment of a fee or who has a religious objection to being photographed must execute an affidavit of identity on a form provided by the county election commission in order to vote. The affidavit must state that the person executing the affidavit is the same individual who is casting the ballot and that the affiant is indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without paying a fee or has a religious objection to being photographed.

Eight states now require that voters bring a photo ID with them to the polls in order to vote under most circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under the Tennessee bill, a driver’s license, state ID, passport or military identification would be accepted.

The Republican measure passed along party lines with a 6-3 vote and heads to a scheduling committee then to the Senate floor. The proposal has always passed in the Senate since it was first introduced in 2007, but consistently died in the House of Representatives. Ketron says he’s confident the bill will pass both chambers this year now that the GOP has solid legislative majorities.

Ketron, who has previously tied the measure to efforts to stiffen penalties against illegal immigrants, says this bill would hamper their ability to vote, but says he’s specifically targeting convicted felons who lost their right to vote and others committing voter fraud.

Several hundred felons who lost their right to vote ended up casting ballots in the 2008 election, according to Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, who said the state is approaching 100 convictions for the voting offense.

The House version is scheduled to go before a subcommittee later this month.