Supporters of a bill requiring voters to provide photo identification at the polls will make their last stand Thursday in the House, but Democrats say it’s unconstitutional and the attorney general agrees.
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, House minority leader, and Sen. Lowe Finney, Democratic caucus chairman, each wrote letters to Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., questioning whether the bill, HB0007, was constitutional under both state and federal law.
Fitzhugh’s letter asked if the bill could be considered a “modern-day poll tax,” while Finney’s brought up whether his own version of the bill, SB1384, would in fact be ruled constitutional as it would provide access to a free photo ID — a move that could cost the state up to $1.2 million.
Cooper’s seven-page response concluded that a state requiring a person to present a photo ID to vote without also providing free access to one “unduly burdens the right to vote and constitutes a poll tax,” and that a court would “likely” find such a law unconstitutional.
The response also cited a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, which upheld the constitutionality of an Indiana law requiring a voter to present photo identification, but only if the ID was provided free of charge.
The legislation, sponsored in the House by Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, passed the Senate in February by a highly partisan vote of 21-11. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, was the only Democrat who voted in favor.
Maggart told reporters the purpose of the bill was to “make sure our elections are honest and pure,” and that Republicans “did not want to keep anyone from voting.”
Democrats weighed in on Cooper’s ruling, saying it made it “pretty clear” that the bill was “a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.”
Maggart responded to the criticism, saying it was “disappointing that the Democrats go to great length to make sure people can cheat when they vote,” and added that she thought it was “unfortunate that Democrats were disenfranchising the people that are voting the right way and doing the right thing.”
This marks the fourth the time the bill has made its way through the General Assembly since it was first introduced in 2007. Each time it has passed the Senate before dying on the House floor.