NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Voter ID Law Tweaked

Retired state workers could continue to use their state-issued ID badges to verify their identity at the polls under a bill the Legislature has passed.

Republicans threw a bone to opponents of Tennessee’s new voter ID law by allowing retired state employees to flash their old work IDs at the polls to vote.

But the GOP-led Legislature — which passed a law last year requiring all voters to present a photo identification card before casting a ballot — easily swatted off attempts from the minority party and other critics to fully repeal the law.

The General Assembly has been considering three bills that would open up the new voter ID law.

One, HB3195, which won final approval Monday, would allow state workers to continue to show their employer ID card at the polls after retirement. The measure passed 90-3 Monday in the House, following a 31-0 vote in the Senate earlier this month.

Another, SB2267, would require adding photos to driver’s licenses for people at least 60 years old, which are now processed without pictures. The new IDs could then be presented at the polls. The Senate approved the bill 20-12, and the measure now awaits a vote in the House.

A final bill, HB2174, would allow people 60 years old and older to vote via absentee ballot no-questions-asked. Currently, voters 65 and older can vote absentee, although people younger than 65 have to prove they were outside of the county they vote in throughout early voting and election day. That measure passed the House 96-0 and awaits a vote in the Senate Finance committee.

“While we appreciate the sentiment of these bills, voting is supposed to be the more fair and even playing field that we have in our democracy,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, which fought a losing battle this year to overturn the photo ID law. “Any exception to that rule basically renders the whole system of voting more unfair and more unequal.”

The new voter ID law specifies that any state- or federally-issued ID besides a college ID can be used to prove a voter’s identity. A repeal effort, SB2139, won approval in a House subcommittee but was later pulled off the agenda in the full committee. It later died in the Senate State and Local Government Committee, 6-3.

A February poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University suggests that most Tennesseans support new rules requiring photo IDs at the ballot box.

Alex Harris contributed to this report.

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