Press Releases

TCA: Electronic Polls Defaulted to GOP During August 2 Primaries

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 28, 2012: 

It has come to our attention that the electronic poll books used in the August 2 primary election in Davidson County, TN, defaulted to the Republican ballot. Read the whole story here.

This is unbelievable and outrageous. No piece of any equipment that’s part of any election should EVER default to one party or another. Ever. The fact that the electronic poll books default to the majority party an issue that the DavidsonCounty Election Commission (DCEC) must address.

You can read about all about how the electronic poll books work and who was affected here, but it first came to our a few days after the election when Davidson County resident Karen Lawrence said [pdf] that when she and her daughter went to vote, her daughter was not asked which ballot she wanted and was automatically given the Republican ballot to vote on.

Ms. Lawrence also overheard a conversation between poll workers:

“My concern was that I overheard the two women who worked the registration desk discussing the error made on my daughter’s first receipt. The older lady who made the error insisted that she “hit Democrat” and that was the 2nd time it had happened to her today. The younger poll worker who ultimately corrected the error responded saying that you have to make sure because “the screen automatically chooses Republican and you have to select Democrat.”

A few days after that, we were contacted by Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall who told us that he also was never asked which ballot he wanted and was automatically given, and then voted on, the Republican ballot. When he realized his mistake, Sheriff Hall immediately phoned Davidson County Election Administrator Albert Tieche to report the error. A few days after that, Mr. Tieche and Sheriff Hall spoke again and Mr. Tieche told Sheriff Hall that yes, the machines do indeed default to the Republican ballot if the poll worker does not choose a ballot.

Tennessee Citizen Action calls for the following:

  • Immediately halt of the use of the EPBs in any and all elections.
  • Complete & independent audit of the August 2 primary.
  • Complete & independent audit of Davidson County Election Commission.
  • The state must notify the TN Attorney General, District Attorney, and US Attorney ASAP to determine if this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Press Releases

Senate Dems Want Inquiry Into Statewide Voting Problems

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; August 28, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – ­Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State Tre Hargett to launch a full inquiry into voting irregularities across the state.

“There are a lot of questions about the integrity of the August primaries, and voters deserve answers,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “We didn’t have these problems four years ago.”

In Shelby and now Davidson County, there have been reports of voters getting the wrong primary ballot and voting in the wrong district. State election officials have admitted that poll worker training was inadequate. Davidson County officials were advised against using electronic poll books, but used them anyway.

“We need to know why the machines defaulted to a particular party’s ballot,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “We need to know who made that decision, and we need to know whether these machines will be used again.”

Democratic leaders called on lawmakers to reconsider the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act, which requires that precincts use optical scanners that produce a paper ballot. The bipartisan law passed unanimously in 2008 but implementation has been delayed.

“People invest considerable time in deciding how to cast their vote, and when they leave the voting booth, they should be confident their vote counted the way they intended,” Sen. Finney said. “I hope state election officials will take these irregularities seriously and conduct a thorough review.”

Press Releases

Dems Wants Election Problems Addressed

Letter from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; August 14, 2012: 

RE: August 2012 Elections

Dear Secretary Hargett:

It is with great concern I write you today. As you are no doubt aware, the elections held on Thursday, August 2nd of this year were plagued with problems ranging from voters not receiving ballots for the correct contests to persons with proper identification not being allowed to vote. These problems were reported across the state and have led many members of the General Assembly to submit the following questions for your review and response:

  1. How many persons were not given a correct ballot and therefore not allowed to vote in their preferred primary or rightful district?
  2. Is their a uniform procedure used at voting locations to insure that voters are aware of and obtain the correct ballot for their primary?
  3. How many persons were denied their right to vote due to issues with identification?

It is essential to the future of our state, and our ability to govern in an honest manner, that the recent problems be identified and addressed in a thorough manner. To deny duly registered voters the right to fully participate in our elections, is unacceptable. We firmly believe that every effort must be made to reveal the cause of the problems with our recent election and hope that your office will lead the way in restoring the integrity of our electoral process.

Best Regards,

Craig Fitzhugh                                  Mike Turner
House Democratic Leader              House Democratic Caucus Chairman

Joe Pitts, State Representative

Barbara Cooper, State Representative

Gary W. Moore, State Representative

Jimmy Naifeh, Speaker Emeritus

Joe Towns, Jr., State Representative

Lois DeBerry, State Representative

Sherry Jones, State Representative

Antonio Parkinson, State Representative

John J. DeBerry, Jr., State Representative

Tommie F. Brown, State Representative

John C. Tidwell, State Representative

Johnnie Turner, State Representative

JoAnne H. Favors, State Representative

Mike Stewart, State Representative

Joe Armstrong, State Representative

Janis Sontany, State Representative

Gary Odom, State Representative

Larry J. Miller, State Representative

Karen Camper, State Representative

Michael R. McDonald, State Representative

G.A. Hardaway, State Representative

Johnny Shaw, State Representative

David Shephard, State Representative

Press Releases

TCA: ‘Plethora of Election Problems, Mistakes’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 9, 2012: 


The past few weeks saw a plethora of election problems and mistakes at the polls in Tennessee.

As we venture further into election season, Citizen Action urges all to be proactive in their voter mobilization and education. Everyone should know that voting is a right guaranteed to you by the Tennessee Constitution and you should never let anyone tell you that you can’t vote.

If you had any problems voting during the primary election last Thursday, August 2, please email us at or call 615-736-6040.

Even if the problem was resolved and you were able to vote, we want to hear your story. Every story means we are one step closer to holding our election administrators and commissioners accountable for fair and accurate elections.


ALEC, also known as the American Legislative Exchange Council, was back in the news last week, after holding yet another national convention. (Read about one progressive’s “Week With ALEC” here.)

We would agree with other critics that ALEC is a “a secretive, corporate-controlled lobby for conservative causes.” ALEC counts as its members executives of large corporations and mostly conservative state lawmakes. The lawmakers are tasked with carrying the legislation authored by the corporate executives back to their respective states. The large corporations do their part by contributing lots of $$$ to state legislator’s election campaigns.

Common Cause recenlty filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing ALEC of misusing their tax-exempt status by lobbying state legislators. The state of Wisconsin has also filed a complaint ” claiming that ALEC’s ‘scholarships’ for travel expenses to conventions violate a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators.” Tennessee also bans gifts from lobbyists to legislators but in 2006, with the help of ALEC Board Member Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville), an explicit exemption was added for ” out-of-state travel expenses provided by ‘a recognized organization of elected or appointed state government officials.‘”


The good news is that many of the corporations who once belonged to ALEC are fleeing from it. Some TN legislators have left as well.

The bad news is that many State Legislators are still members. Here’s the who’s who of TN legislators who are associated with ALEC:

TN House of Representatives

  • Rep. Curry Todd* (R-Collierville)
  • Rep-elect Susan Lynn* (R-Mt. Juliet)
  • Rep. John D. Ragan* (R-Oak Ridge)
  • Rep. Kevin D. Brooks* (R-Cleveland)
  • Rep. David Hawk* (R-Greeneville)
  • Rep. Bob Ramsey* (R-Maryville)
  • Rep. Tony Shipley* (R-Kingsport)
  • Rep. Vince Dean* (R-East Ridge)
  • Rep. Curtis Johnson* (R-Clarksville)
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick* (R-Chattanooga)
  • Rep. Charles Sargent* (R-Franklin)
  • Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville)
  • Rep. Stephen McManus* (R-Cordova)
  • Rep. Harry R. Brooks* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Jimmy Eldridge* (R-Jackson)
  • Rep. Julia Hurley (R-Lenoir City)*
  • Rep. Mark White* (R-Memphis)
  • Rep. Phillip Johnson (R-Pegram)
  • Rep. Ryan A. Haynes* (R-Knoxville)
  • Rep. Joe Carr* (R-Lascassass)
  • Rep. Jon C. Lundberg* (R-Bristol)
  • Rep. Joshua G. Evans* (R-Greenbrier)
  • Rep. Mike T. Harrison* (R-Rogersville)
  • Rep. Johnny Montgomery (R-Sevierville)
  • Rep. Steve McDaniel* (R-Parkers Crossroads) (Read quotes here)
  • Rep. Barrett Rich* (R-Somerville)
  • Rep. Kelly Keisling* (R-Byrdstown) (Also recently made appearance in HuffPost)
  • Rep. Vance Dennis* (R-Savannah)
  • Rep. Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough)

TN Senate

  • Sen. Reginald Tate** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Ken Yager* (R-Harriman)
  • Sen. Dolores R. Gresham* (R-Somerville)
  • Sen. Steve Southerland** (R-Morristown)
  • Sen. Jim Tracy* (R-Shelbyville)
  • Sen. Bill Ketron** (R-Murfreesboro)
  • Sen. Mike Bell** (R-Riceville)
  • Sen. Brian K. Kelsey** (R-Germantown)
  • Sen. Mark S. Norris* (R-Collierville)
  • Sen. Ophelia Ford** (D-Memphis)
  • Sen. Jim Kyle* (D-Memphis)

*These members won their primary races last week. And here is a list of the August 2 Primary Election results.

** No re-election bid this year.


GOOD NEWS! We have a Constitutional challenge to Tennessee’s Photo ID to Vote law! The Memphis Commercial Appeal reports:

“An amended complaint was filed Tuesday by attorneys for the city and for two Memphis voters without state-issued ID cards whose provisional ballots in last Thursday’s election were not counted. The complaint charges that the voter photo ID requirement adds a new qualification for voting beyond the four listed in the Tennessee Constitution and is therefore an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote under both the federal and state constitutions.

The attorneys…have asked the federal court to ask the Tennessee Supreme Court whether requiring otherwise qualified voters in Tennessee to present photo IDs violates the state constitution.”

HERE WE GO! Thank you again to everyone who worked so hard last winter to repeal the law. The fight is not over yet!


It was only a matter of time. Finally, Jon Stewart skewers conservative charges of rampant voter fraud on last night’s edition of The Daily Show: “The Wizards of I.D.”

Watch Part 1.

Then watch Part 2.

Favorite line – “If you have a favorite Meg Ryan movie, you might be eleigible to vote!”


RALLY TO STOP VOTER SUPPRESSION IN TENNESSEE Please join to speak with one voice to decry this injustice. Saturday, August 11, 10:30 am – 12:30 pm at Krutch Park, Knoxville, TN More info here.

COMMITTEE MEETING Tennessee Equality Project Nashville Committee Meeting at Nashville West Buffalo Wild Wings onWednesday, August 15 at 7:00 p.m.

CONFERENCE Tennessee Health Care Campaign
23rd Annual Conference on Saturday, August 18
9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Kresge Learning Center
Meharry Medical College
1005 Dr. D.B. Todd Blvd. Nashville. For more info:

TRAINING: VOTER REGISTRATION Nashville’s League of Women Voters is hosting a “How to Register Voters” Train-the-Trainer workshop on Sat, August 18 10:30 am – 12 noon at the Goodwill Career Solutions center, Nashville

SUPER VOTER REGISTRATION DAY The NAACP, Middle Tennessee Urban League, Citizen Action, and others encourage your organization to join with us to organize and sponsor an all-day Voter Registration Drive on Sunday, August 19.

COMMUNITY ORGANIZING WORKSHOP A Nashville Workshop on Faith-based Community Organizing on Saturday, August 25 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm at the Spruce Street Baptist Church. Planned by The Nashville Faith-Based Organizing Project. Training by The Gamaliel Foundation. Register for free online here.

NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Policing Parties’ Candidates Not Within ‘State’s Purview’: State Elections Official

The state’s elections coordinator says he doesn’t have the authority to scrap the results of the Aug. 2 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, in which a little-known candidate whose “hatred and bigotry” has prompted the party to disavow his candidacy won the nomination.

Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said there’s no time to hold a new primary, and no grounds to do so, in a letter to Larry Crim who came in a distant third to Mark E. Clayton. Clayton garnered 30 percent of the vote in the field of seven candidates.

Clayton followed all the legal requirements in qualifying to have his name on the ballot, and the state Democratic Party did not move to disqualify him in the seven-day window following the qualification deadline prescribed in state law, Goins says in the letter dated Aug. 7.

The grounds you and (your lawyer) stated to me were that Chip Forrester as chairman of the Democratic Party failed to properly carry out his duties charged to him under the Tennessee Democratic Party’s bylaws. Let me be clear that it is not within the state’s purview to determine whether Chip Forrester is adequately performing the duties assigned to him by the party.

In other words, like deciding who is a “bona fide” member of the party for primary voting purposes, this is an area governed by the parties.

The state Democratic Party has explained the outcome of the election by saying that Clayton’s last name, beginning with a ‘C’, appeared at the top of the list and was therefore the default choice for any voters confused by the array of choices.

His win is a mystery, seeing as how Clayton didn’t play the money game and at last check his website was down. His opponent in November, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, had a cool $6.3 million as of mid-July.

Forrester told the Nashville Scene that Clayton’s affiliation with Public Advocate of the United States, an anti-gay group based in Falls Church, Va., was cause for concern.

“This kind of hatred and bigotry is not a candidate that the Democratic Party can embrace,” Forrester said.

More than 48,000 members of the party’s primary voters cast their ballots for Clayton last week.

Press Releases

TN Citizen Action Reminds Voters Today is Election Day

Newsletter from Tennessee Citizen Action; August 2, 2012:  

If you need actual evidence of how the new “big money in politics” climate might affect things here in Tennessee then look no further than the Democratic primary between Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Rep. John Deberry in State House District 90 in Memphis.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press and the Memphis Commercial Appeal have both reporting that:

“Two national groups that lobby for school vouchers and charter schools spent more than $140,000 in July in support of pro-voucher state Rep. John Deberry’s Democratic primary race against Rep. Jeanne Richardson in Memphis, according to new campaign financial disclosures. The ‘independent expenditures’ by the Super PACS, or political action committees, run by [Michelle Rhee’s] Students First and the American Federation for Children are a huge amount of money for a Tennessee legislative race.”

The real issue isn’t whether one candidate backs vouchers and the other doesn’t. The real issue is the gobs of out-of-state money influencing our state politics. The issue is that one candidate is seemingly bought and paid for by out-of-state corporate and special interests, and one is not.

So how, then, as Tennessee political analyst Trace Sharp asks, “do common folks, just regular people, compete with that kind of money in races that in the past didn’t see this high volume of, for lack of a better word, investment?”

Well, we only one answer right now: WE VOTE.

So GET OUT AND VOTE TODAY – and help to make the lines at your polling place as long as the lines at that pollo place.

But before you go…


Redistricting in Tennessee caused many changes, so doublecheck that you are going to the right voting location.

Also, some voters have been given incorrect ballots during early voting so you want to double check which State House, State Senate, and School board district (County District) you are before you go to make sure you are given the correct ballot.

You can do both of these in one place. Here’s how:


In Tennessee, in addition to being a registered vote, YOU WILL NEED A SPECIFIC PHOTO ID TO VOTE.

Any of the following photo IDs may be used, EVEN IF EXPIRED:

  • Tennessee or other state drivers license with your photo
  • United States Passport
  • Photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the federal, or any other state government
  • United States Military photo ID
  • State-issued handgun carry permit with your photo

Photo IDs NOT Accepted for Voting:

  • College student IDs
  • Photo IDs not issued by the federal or a state government are NOT acceptable

For a complete detailing of the law, go to


Just sayin’.

If you feel as if you are not being helped to your satisfaction by a poll worker, call you County Election Commission. The list is here.

Press Releases

TNDP Wants State Election Probe in Shelby Co., All of TN

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; July 26, 2012: 

NASHVILLE — With more than 1,000 wrong ballots cast in Shelby County, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester urged state election officials Thursday to review early voting ballots across the state.

“Republicans have spent the last two years talking about the importance of pure elections and yet they have failed over and over again to protect our voting rights,” Forrester said. “Their far-reaching incompetence and mismanagement has completely undermined our elections and any shred of faith voters may have had left in the process.”

Election officials confirmed to Memphis media that early voters in Shelby County cast more than 1,000 wrong ballots during early voting.

With so many mistakes, state officials should review early voting ballots ahead of the August 2 Primary Election — specifically in districts and precincts that were severely altered by redistricting — and report on the scope and magnitude of the “wrong ballot” mishap.

Initially election officials refused to acknowledge the widespread error, but thanks to the persistence of two concerned citizens, Joe Weinberg and Steve Ross, voters now have an understanding of the problem in Shelby County. So far state officials have failed to address whether the “wrong ballot” oversight is happening elsewhere in Tennessee.

“The taxpayers funding these elections deserve to know whether their vote counted or it was stolen because of incompetence,” Forrester said. “How big is this problem? When will it be fixed? Unfortunately, we don’t know because Elections Coordinator Mark Goins has not publicly addressed the issue that 1,000 wrong ballots were cast on his watch.”

Local election officials say they won’t lift a finger to fix this blunder. The pattern of neglect we see from our election officials is unacceptable.

“From the failed implementation of the voter-suppressing photo ID law to the disenfranchisement of law-abiding voters, we have called on Coordinator Goins multiple times to take some responsibility and fix the problems plaguing our elections, but it appears he’s more interested in playing politics than being accountable to voters,” Forrester said. “While we are proud to live in a state where citizens stand up to a neglectful government, our citizens deserve leaders who will hold themselves accountable for the errors happening under their command.”

Featured News Transparency and Elections

Partisan Potshots Pouring Forth Over Photo ID Law

Rep. Mike Turner is rejecting Republican attacks that he waffled on opposing the state’s new photo ID law and instead says the GOP should put its money where its mouth is.

If Republicans want to prove they don’t seek to disenfranchise voters, they need to spend as much as $8 million in taxpayer dollars to ensure that every voter can get to and from the DMV for a photo ID and better train people in the state’s driver’s license centers or repeal the law, Turner, of Old Hickory said. Turner introduced a repeal bill this month.

Republicans say there’s nothing wrong with the photo ID law.

“Be it polling, e-mails, phone calls or simply constituents stopping us on the street, support for the measure is strong,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a Facebook post Wednesday railing against Democrats for telling “lies” about what he calls a “wildly popular” new law.

“The photo ID law suppresses nothing other than voter fraud. We expect in a modern republic such as ours to have faith in the integrity of our electoral process,” he said.

The Tennessee Republican Party pegged Turner as a “flip-flopper” last week by highlighting video of the House Democratic Party chairman saying he’s open to requiring voters bring photo IDs to vote.

“I don’t have a problem with this bill at all if we’re gonna pay for it,” Turner said in the April 5 State and Local Government Committee meeting. “Now, if you’re not willing to go get a free ID, then maybe, you know, you shouldn’t deserve to vote.”

Even though the Legislature funded the photo IDs to the tune of $438,000, Turner told TNReport this week the state should spend an amount in the ballpark of the $10 million Indiana spent on a similar law it passed in 2005.

“We were trying to get them to fund it. As it turns out, they didn’t fund it at the proper level. Not anywhere close to the proper level,” Turner said.

In four years, Indiana distributed more than 770,000 free photo IDs to voters costing $10 million based on materials, printing and manpower costs, according to Jeremy Burton, election outreach manager for Indiana’s Election Division.

“We believe the photo ID law has been good, not bad, for elections,” Burton told TNReport in a telephone interview this week. “Hoosiers expect to show photo ID at the polls now. It’s part of our routine now, we’re used to it. … We’ve worked really hard to not let this law stop anybody from voting.”

Tennessee Republicans say there’s adequate funding allotted for “free” photo IDs within this year’s budget.

“Everyday, more and more Tennesseans are finding out they already have a valid photo ID. Those that don’t are able to quickly and easily secure a free ID and Safety has all the resources they need to ensure that happens,” said House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who spent much of Thursday trading barbs about the ID law with House Democratic Party Leader Craig Fitzhugh on Twitter.

So far, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security has issued 2,385 free photo IDs to voters, and agency spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said the department does “not anticipate a need for additional funding this year or in the future.”

With Republicans currently in rock solid control of the General Assembly, it’s unlikely Democrats will garner enough votes in both chambers to void the law kicking in Jan. 1, especially absent any statistics showing it’s unpopular among voters.

A poll conducted recently by Middle Tennessee State University Monday did not ask respondents whether they favor or oppose the controversial voter ID law, but instead quizzed them on what IDs would work on election day.

Polling staff finalized the questions less than a week before Turner and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, filed legislation to repeal the voter ID law and didn’t think public opinion on the matter was a particularly relevant question to ask right then, said Ken Blake, the poll director. Given the voting requirements were already on the books — and there was no repeal officially on the table — they chose to focus on public understanding of how the law works, he said. Groups like Tennessee Citizen Action and the Tennessee ACLU had been circulating a petition to build support for a repeal for weeks.

“Polling is all about the question you wish you had asked,” said Blake.

Of the 669 people surveyed, 71 percent knew about the new photo ID requirements. Almost all understood that a driver’s license with a photo will be accepted at the polls, but just 14 percent of people knew that an expired driver’s license would work, too.

Pollsters also asked several other random questions. Only about half of respondents knew that an employee ID issued by a major automaker would not pass muster. The law specifies that only certain government IDs will be accepted.

But 78 percent knew a military ID would be accepted.

The conclusion from the results: People know the new law’s out there, but they aren’t sure what they’ll need at the voting booth, said Jason Reineke, associate director of the MTSU poll.

“People have this nebulous understanding of it. They know there’s this new law and it’s about voter IDs, but they are still unclear under our measurement of what’s required of them,” said Reineke.

If repeal proposals are still alive next spring when MTSU launches its next poll, asking what people think of the new law could make it to the survey, Blake said.

[View the story “Trading Barbs on Voter ID” on Storify]

Press Releases

Citizen Action: MTSU Poll Proves New Voter ID Law Is Confusing

Statement from Tennessee Citizen Action; Oct. 24, 2011: 


Nashville, Tenn. (October 24, 2011) — A new poll issued by the MTSU Survey Group reveals that most Tennesseans are aware of new voter ID law, but many confused about the details. Tennessee Citizen Action released the following statement:

“We’re not surprised that many Tennesseans are confused about the details of the new photo ID to vote law because it’s in the details that the devil lives. The requirements necessary for Tennesseans to comply with the law are restrictive, excessive, and extremely confusing.

For instance, the law states that the ID must be a “Valid government-issued photo ID” but we’re being told we can use an expired drivers license. We’re not sure when “valid” and “expired” started to mean the same thing. We’re also being told that certain government-issued photo IDs, such as those issued by state universities and colleges, cannot be used, while others, such as gun permits, can.

Adding to the confusion is the very specific and excessive ID requirements needed for Tennesseans to obtain the necessary ID. You need proof of U.S. Citizenship, a primary proof of identity with full name and date of birth (like an original copy of a birth certificate) AND a secondary proof of identity AND a proof of name change if different from name on primary ID AND TWO proofs of Tennessee residency.

Basically, this law is taking away a person’s right to vote, telling them they have to get a government-issued photo ID to get it back, and confusing the hell out of them in the process. This is NOT what democracy looks like.”

Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization focused on justice for all. As part of the No Barriers to the Ballot Box coalition, TNCA is working to repeal the photo ID to vote law.



Liberty and Justice NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Voter ID Law Debate Continues

Officials on both sides of the debate over the state’s new voter ID law are pointing the blame at each other about who, exactly, is disenfranchising voters.

Liberal advocacy groups like Citizen Action say the lawmakers who agreed to turn away voters who show up at the polls without a government-issued photo identification are at fault.

But a handful of conservative lawmakers and Haslam administration officials speaking to the issue on Capitol Hill Tuesday are blaming those same groups for implying that the General Assembly is taking away some people’s ability to vote.

“Misinformation is a disenfranchisement. If someone reads that they are disenfranchised, they may believe that,” Mark Goins, the state’s coordinator of elections, told the Senate State and Local Government study committee that met to discuss the issue.

One such example, said Goins, was a recent op-ed by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who alleged the Legislature is obstructing his 94-year-old mother’s right to vote because she doesn’t have a photo ID. In the editorial that ran last week, Herron tallied the cost of getting proper identification to at least $100, adding up the cost of ordering a birth certificate, the cost of gas getting to and from the DMV to obtain a photo ID and the cost of taking time off work and characterizing it as a “poll tax.”

“For those who are working people and poor people and hurting people … this will make it harder for them to vote,” Herron said after the hearing. “Those who don’t have photo IDs, and there are 675,000 Tennesseans, according to the Department of Safety, that do no have a driver’s license with a photo on it, they might have some other ID, but if I was not a state senator, I would not have any other government-issued ID, and that’s true of most people.”

Goins says anyone over 65 who doesn’t get a photo ID can vote absentee by mail, which is contrary to comments like Herron’s that indicate the state is creating barriers to the ballot box. He said 126,000 registered voters have driver’s licenses without photos, although some of them have other forms of ID they can use.

But absentee voting for some is not fair for all voters, said Mary Mancini, executive director of Citizen Action of Tennessee, a “consumer advocacy” which is asking voters to sign petitions asking the Legislature to repeal the new law.

“Voting is supposed to be a level playing field. It’s the most basic right that we all have,” she said. “As it stands right now, only voters 65 or older could vote, no questions asked, absentee. That’s an exception, and whenever you are making an exception like that, you are unleveling the playing field.”

The issue has become a national one. According to a report by the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, some 5 million people will have a tougher time voting this year as they adapt to new rules.

U.S. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin quizzed Gov. Bill Haslam about the state’s new voter ID law last month by sending him a letter asking how the Volunteer State expects to implement the new law to make sure every voter — including those who are elderly, live in rural areas, are low-income or belong to a minority group — has what he needs at the ballot box.

Haslam’s no-frills response included details about asking county clerks to issue photo IDs, opening up express lanes for ID seekers at the DMV and reaching out to voters.

“Can I absolutely guarantee there will be no lines anywhere and you walk right in? No, I can’t,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday in Nashville after speaking to a monthly luncheon meeting of Republicans.

“But we’re doing everything we can from our standpoint, and again, like I said, everything from extending that to county clerks to make that as easy as possible,” he continued.

Some 30 county clerks have agreed to issue photo IDs, a number Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons told the committee he hopes to expand to at least 50 in the next few years. He also plans to open certain DMV centers on Saturdays beginning in November and running through the March presidential primary.

According to the Department of Safety, any government-issued photo ID can be used at the polls, including:

  • Valid or expired Tennessee drivers license with photo.
  • Valid or expired out-of-state driver’s license with photo.
  • U.S. passport.
  • Federal employee ID with photo.
  • State employee ID with photo, including IDs issued by state universities.
  • U.S. military ID.
  • Gun permit card with photo.

College student IDs are not eligible.