Press Releases

Haslam Tells Durbin How TN Will Ensure Voters Get Proper Photo ID

Letter from Gov. Bill Haslam to U.S. Senator and Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Sept. 15, 2011: 

Dear Senator Durbin:

In response to your letter dated September 8, 2011, we are taking steps to (1) inform registered voters in Tennessee of the new law requiring government-issued photo identification to vote starting in 2012, and (2) insure that registered voters have the proper forms of identification.

First, under the law, any form of photo identification issued by the state or federal government, with the exception of student identification cards issued by state colleges or universities, is acceptable. This includes current or expired Tennessee driver licenses or driver licenses from other states, state or federal-issued employee cards (including staff or faculty identification cards issued by state colleges or universities), current or expired military identification cards, veterans’ cards, U.S. passports and handgun carry permits with photos.

Any registered voter who does not have an acceptable form of government-issued photo identification may get a state-issued ID card at no charge at any of the current 48 state driver service centers that issue new licenses. To help reduce the wait times at driver service centers, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security is placing citizens who need photo identification for voting purposes in an “express service” category. While there will still be some wait time at some centers, this should speed up the process for citizens needing photo IDs.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security is also working with numerous county clerks offices, including some in counties where no driver service centers are located, to issue photo identification cards to registered voters who need them at no charge. This should increase significantly the number of locations where voters can go to obtain photo identification.

Drivers over age 60 may choose to have non-photo driver licenses in Tennessee. The Secretary of State and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security have worked together to develop the names and addresses of more than 126,000 registered voters over age 60 who have non-photo driver licenses.  A direct mail piece will be sent to these registered voters in early November to inform them of the new law, educate them on the alternative forms of acceptable government-issued photo IDs, and instruct them on how to obtain a photo on their driver licenses at no charge.

This law does not apply to citizens who vote by absentee ballot. Additionally, any registered voter who shows up to vote on Election Day will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot and will then have two business days to produce a government-issued photo ID to prove their identities to local election commissions.

All of the information on the acceptable forms of government-issued photo identification and information on how to obtain a free photo ID for voting purposes is posted on the Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s website at

We continue to look at other ways to communicate the new law and help all voters meet the new requirement in the coming months.

Warmest regards,

Bill Haslam

Cc:       Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Department of Safety and Homeland Security

Secretary of State Tre Hargett


Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Haslam Confident in State Plans to Implement Photo ID Law

Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration has the steps in place to make sure everyone who is qualified to vote can, despite statements from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that Tennessee could be disenfranchising voters.

Between plans to open up photo ID express lanes at local DMVs, asking county clerks to issue the identifications and reaching out to affected voters, Tennessee is on the right track, Haslam said.

“In Tennessee we want to make certain that everybody that has the legal right to vote has the opportunity to vote. And those that don’t have the legal right to vote don’t vote,” Haslam told reporters on a conference call Wednesday about his meetings with bond rating agencies in New York.

Durbin, the assistant majority leader in the Senate, said this week he is concerned that the state’s new law requiring voters to show a photo ID at the ballot box could disenfranchise voters, especially the poor, elderly, ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas. He said more than 126,000 Tennessee voters have photo-less drivers licenses that will not be accepted on election day.

Durbin suggested the law could warrant an examination by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Durbin asked Haslam in a letter last week to detail his plan for ensuring voters can obtain photo identification efficiently and free of charge before the next election. The governor’s office has not yet responded, a spokesman said.

Almost any photo ID issued by the state or federal government will be accepted at the polls, according to the governor’s office. That includes current or expired driver’s licenses from Tennessee or other states, government employee cards including university IDs for staff and faculty, current or expired military IDs, veterans’ cards and U.S. passports.

Press Releases

Harwell Says Cooper, Durbin Are Trampling on States’ Rights

Statement from House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville; Sept. 13, 2011: 

(NASHVILLE, September 13, 2011) – Speaker Beth Harwell on Tuesday reiterated the importance of the new law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly that requires photo identification to vote, after Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin joined with Congressman Jim Cooper to criticize the law.

“The Tennessee legislature passed this law to ensure fair elections which are a cornerstone of democracy. Legitimate votes are cancelled out when fraud occurs, and it the state’s responsibility to prevent voter fraud. I commend the General Assembly for taking seriously the state’s responsibility of securing our ballot box. We could only hope that Congress would be this serious about securing our borders,” said Harwell.

“I would suggest to our federal officials that they get their own house in order first. In an era of rising deficits, ballooning debt, and bloated federal government in Washington Dick Durbin and Jim Cooper have chosen to ignore those problems and come to Tennessee to trample on states’ rights. No wonder Congress has an 82 percent disapproval rating. Congressman Cooper has assumed the Washington mentality of not respecting states’ rights.

“The Tennessee General Assembly has balanced a budget, kept taxes low, and protected our elections. We are doing just fine without Washington’s help,” Harwell concluded.

Transparency and Elections

Powerful U.S. Senator from Illinois Visits Nashville, Denounces TN’s Voter ID Law

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said Monday Tennessee’s new photo ID law could disenfranchise voters, especially the poor, elderly, ethnic minorities or those living in rural areas.

Tennessee’s Republican-led Legislature approved a law last spring that would require voters to bring a government-issued photo identification with them to the polls. Democrats argued that the move created a “poll tax” and put an unnecessary burden on voters.

“In a nation that has struggled long and hard to make sure that every American has the right to vote, we cannot allow for new state laws, in any state, that will restrict those Americans who have a legal right to vote from that opportunity. So, we’re going to pursue this further,” said Durbin, assistant Democratic majority leader in the U.S. Senate.

Durbin led a Senate subcommittee hearing last week to review state voting laws and their implications for civil rights. The subcommittee reviewed four new Tennessee laws, including one that changes registration notification requirements and two that tinker with early voting periods.

But Durbin seized on the photo ID law, saying more than 126,000 registered Tennessee voters have driver’s licenses that lack photos and will not be accepted on election day.

“If this is a matter of, I either have to take off work or I go to wait four hours, waiting for a photo ID some place, I think that kinda gets to the point where it creates hardship,” Durbin said.  The photo ID law raises “serious constitutional questions” about the state creating obstacles or a “poll tax” for people who “tend to vote more Democratic,” he said.

Rep. Debra Maggart, the Republican Caucus chairwoman who sponsored the bill, said she believes the GOP-led Legislature took the steps necessary to make sure the law jibes with the Constitution by allowing anyone needing a photo ID to get one for free at the state taxpayer’s expense. All that legal residents need to do to obtain a government-issued photo ID at no charge from the State of Tennessee is sign an affidavit declaring that their purpose for seeking one is to vote and that they are a registered voter without any other state-issued photo identification, according to the law lawmakers approved this year.

“What we have here is a transparent attempt by a Democratic senator from another state trying to use the heavy hand of the federal government to tell Tennesseans what to do,” Maggart said via email.

Meanwhile, Department of Safety officials say they’re reforming driver’s license facilities to ease access and, together with elections officials, informing drivers over 60 of the new law.

The new requirements kick in on Jan. 1 and will be tested in the March primaries.

Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Durbin Pushing for ‘National Standard’ on Internet Sales Tax Collections

As state government officials here wrestle with requiring to collect sales taxes from Tennessee consumers on their Internet purchases, one of the country’s top congressional Democrats told reporters in Nashville Monday he’s pushing for a national cure.

But he’s anything but certain how long it will take to pass his “Main Street Fairness Act.”

“(Congressman Jim Cooper) and I would be loath to suggest we do anything quickly in Washington,” said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader in the Senate. “But I think it is within the realm of possibility if we get the right bill and vehicle moving.”

Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to Washington officials to settle the ongoing disputes between states and online retailers like Amazon to standardize the collection of sales taxes. A month prior to his inauguration, then Gov. Phil Bredesen cut a deal with Amazon allowing it to open up distribution centers around the state without having to collect the taxes.

Although Haslam agreed, he says his administration is in the process of negotiating a long-term solution that would honor the former governor’s agreement while still opening up the possibility that the state can eventually collect sales taxes from the Internet retail giant. So far, details of those talks have been kept secret.

“You won’t be surprised to know that most Americans don’t pay the state or local sales tax on their Internet purchases,” said Durbin, who held a press conference with Cooper at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. “If it looks like you’re somehow imposing a new tax, you can imagine what happens in Washington. There will be groups that are marching in the streets against it.”

He said his plan would create a national standard to require large Internet retailers to collect state and local sales taxes and exempt small Internet sellers. Durbin says Amazon supports his proposal.

“This is not a new tax,” said Cooper. “This is a collection of an existing tax and everybody should be for that.”