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Judge Declines to Add Library Cards to Voting ID List

Chastising the General Assembly’s cherry-picking of the kinds of photo IDs voters can use at the polls, a district judge ruled against an attempt to add library cards to the list in time for Thursday’s primaries.

U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger called provisions of the state’s new voter ID law “ambiguous” Tuesday and called on the Legislature to revise what kinds of photo identification election officials will accept.

“There are parts of this act that make no sense to this court,” she said, adding it’s “nonsensical” that officials can legally accept a hunter’s license from Nebraska but not a library card from Memphis.

Trauger said she was “not convinced” by arguments from the city of Memphis to issue a preliminary injunction, which would have allowed voters there to use library cards as a type of ID.

At issue was whether the Memphis public library system was an entity of the state, whether the individual plaintiffs suffered irreparable harm and the effect a preliminary injunction would have on the election system if the initial ruling were overturned.

“We can’t turn back the clock,” said Janet M. Kleinfelter, Tennessee deputy attorney general. “In a close election, that can make a difference between who wins and who loses.”

Lawmakers in 2011 passed a law requiring voters to produce certain government-issued photo identification to prove their identity at the polls.

Attorney Douglas Johnston Jr., representing the city of Memphis, said his goal wasn’t to get the entire law thrown out but to give registered voters who lack a photo ID more tools to vote this week.

He said state officials should have embraced an opportunity to add library cards to the list of valid IDs, not issuing a “knee-jerk reaction without thinking through what’s attempting to be done here.”

“We are attempting to facilitate this statue, not stop it,” said Johnston. “All we were trying to do was to assist in a small way some of those citizens in Memphis.”

Photo IDs that will be accepted at the polls include a valid or expired driver’s license from any state, passport, federally-issued ID, state employee ID, military ID or gun permit card with a photo.

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