Tennessee Democrats are railing against the state’s new photo ID law every chance they get, and Rep. Debra Maggart, a Republican, says for that she’s grateful.
Maggart, the House GOP caucus chairwoman who sponsored the law, said Tuesday that partisan debate on the issue has helped encourage people without a photo ID to get one.
“Thankfully, even though the Democrats continue to complain, they’re actually helping us get the word out, and I appreciate that,” said Maggart, of Hendersonville. “I don’t think they mean to, but they are. That’s an unintended consequence with their unhappiness with this law.”
The Secretary of State’s office, which oversees elections, kicked off a PR campaign Tuesday with meetings in all 95 counties about the new voting requirements. Democrats are launching their own campaign this week to tell voters of the new rules and try to drum up support to repeal them.
As of early last week, the state had handed out 2,385 photo IDs to people who need one to vote. Estimates of the number of people who are in need of identification before election day range from 126,000 to 675,000, depending on which party is talking and how those numbers are counted.
Chip Forrester, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, on Monday chastised the state for an “under-organized” effort to get people IDs.
“It’s a woefully inadequate plan,” said Forrester.
About 20 Democratic voter registration drives are planned for this Saturday, he said.
“We’re launching this effort to make sure that voters do understand what they need and so when they do go to the polls, they won’t be disenfranchised,” Forrester said.
To cast a ballot, Tennessee voters must show as of Jan. 1 a form of government-issued photo ID, namely a current or expired in-state or out-of-state driver’s license or identification card, or a U.S. passport, state or federal government employee ID, U.S. military ID or a gun permit card.
The list of acceptable forms of identification is similar to those a new hire must show an employer in order to legally work in Tennessee or anywhere in the country. According to the Department of Labor and the Secretary of State’s office, the only documents employers are allowed to accept that the election overseers don’t are birth certificates, certificates of citizenship, certificates of naturalization and “lawful permanent resident” cards, otherwise known as “green cards” issued to immigrants authorized to live and work in the U.S.
While Democrats are looking to educate the public on the law this weekend, they’d prefer it be rescinded.
“Taking somebody’s right to vote away by statute and then offering some education program, that’s like stealing some body’s car and then dropping by their house and offering them a secondhand bicycle,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville.
Democrats and Republicans have bickered over the voter ID law since its passage last spring. Maggart and House Democratic Caucus Leader Craig Fitzhugh have been especially combative, periodically exchanging Twitter fusillades over everything from underlying political motivations for the law to the number of people who actually lack ID necessary now to vote.
Although the GOP-dominated Legislature voted solidly in favor of the law, Democrats are holding out hope that they can get more than a dozen Republicans to change their mind and back their push for a repeal come next year’s legislative session, which begins in January.