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TN Students File Voting Rights Case Against State Voter ID Law

Press release from the Fair Elections Legal Network; March 4, 2015:

Voter ID Law Discriminates Against College Students and Violates U.S. Constitution 

Washington, DC – A federal lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court in Nashville challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law as violating the voting rights of Tennessee college and university students. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a student organization and nine college students by the Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights organization, and Nashville law firm, Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC. The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the current voter ID law violates the 14th Amendment and 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it discriminates against college students by excluding student ID cards from the list of accepted voter IDs.

Since 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly has consistently made it harder for young college students to vote, while making it easier for older voters to comply with or avoid the ID requirement entirely. The voter ID law allows voters to use public college and university faculty and employee ID cards but not student ID cards issued by the same institutions. The suit alleges legislators have purposely singled out students, particularly out-of-state students, in order to discourage them from voting in Tennessee, as is their right.

This case asks that college and university student ID cards be added to the list of accepted voter IDs.  Of the states that have recently adopted strict photo voter ID laws, only Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina, as well as North Carolina beginning in 2016, refuse to accept student IDs.

The plaintiffs include the Nashville Student Organizing Committee (NSOC), a student-run social justice organization that has long advocated for making student IDs an accepted form of voter ID, and nine individual students from public and private colleges and universities in Tennessee, including Fisk University and Tennessee State University, both historically black institutions in Nashville.

The suit’s organizational plaintiff NSOC released the following statement: “In this time of reflection and commemoration of the Selma March for voting rights, the Nashville Student Organizing Committee is continuing the efforts started 50 years ago by challenging Tennessee’s regressive voter ID law that seeks to silence us as students.  Voting is a moral imperative, and it is our hope that this case will create lasting change.”

”For four years, the Tennessee General Assembly has rejected every attempt to add college student IDs to the voter ID list, systematically shutting young voters out of the political process just as they become eligible to vote,” said Jon Sherman, staff attorney for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “This case will demonstrate that when politicians tinker with a voter ID list to pick their preferred voters, they violate the Constitution and the most basic aspirations of our democracy.”

“For more than five decades, this law firm has battled to ensure the civil rights of all are respected and honored. The voter ID law is just the latest version of a long line of official attempts to suppress voters,” said Douglas S. Johnston, Jr. of Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison LLC. “I look forward to joining the battle to undo this attempt to curb the voting rights of young people.”

The full text of the complaint can be found here.

Herron Looks Back to 1964 Civil Rights Act, Chides GOP Over Voter ID

Column from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron; July 2, 2014:

 This column originally appeared in The Commercial Appeal.

Fifty years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I was in elementary school and had no clue about the law that would drastically change daily life for African-Americans. I surely had no idea how it would improve life for white Americans like me.

This historic legislation outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin at “places of public accommodation.” The movie theater I frequented had to discard its “coloreds only” entrance and the segregated balcony. Restaurants where we ate had to let African-Americans out of the kitchens and into the dining areas. My future friends, like state Sen. Reggie Tate of Memphis, were no longer excluded from admission to the Mid-South Fair six days a week.

The new law gave the U.S. attorney general authority to seek redress when school boards deprived students “of the equal protection of the laws.” Two years later, my school in Weakley County, Tennessee, was desegregated. And for the first time, I began to spend time daily with African-American children. I had new friends in the classrooms, and the lessons went beyond reading and writing.

After signing the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said to an aide, “We (Democrats) have lost the South for a generation.” The president underestimated the political impact, which continues now two generations later.

In 1966, just two years later, the people of Tennessee for the first time popularly elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate.

In 1968, in Memphis, the sanitation workers went on strike and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down. In Nashville the Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction. Then in 1970, Tennessee elected a second Republican to the U.S. Senate, throwing out Democratic Sen. Albert Gore Sr.

Despite the backlash, the Civil Rights Act changed customs and changed society. With those changes, what could not have been imagined in 1964 became reality in 2008: An African-American was elected president.

Yet some Republicans responded to this historic progress with crude jokes and racist appeals to fellow bigots. In just one of many examples, a Tennessee Republican state legislative aide sent e-mails caricaturing President Barack Obama’s official portrait as two cartoon eyes peering from a black background.

When in 2010 I ran for Congress, racism was too easy to find. I can still see the angry face of the man at the duck supper who responded to my handshake with “Lemme talk with you about your (N-word) president.” And the scowling man at the rodeo who snarled, “I don’t shake hands with darkies or Democrats — and they’re often the same.”

Thankfully, most Republicans are not racists. But while most Republicans would never discriminate, degrade or demean, their leaders’ legislative actions still repress voters and reverse progress.

All over the country, Republicans are pushing new impediments to discourage and decrease voting by minorities and low-income citizens. While Republicans say they oppose big and oppressive government, they rammed through Tennessee’s government ID law, now notorious as one of the nation’s most burdensome. Only certain government cards now are acceptable at the polls, after Republicans outlawed using a Social Security card or even photo ID cards from the Memphis public library or the University of Memphis. Those without a driver’s license – nationally, 25% of African-Americans – now must go to a driver’s license station, but fewer than half of our counties even have such a station.

Republicans claim these laws fight voter fraud, but instances of persons trying to vote while using someone else’s identity are almost nonexistent. And researchers at the University of Southern California showed strong evidence that “discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for (these new) voter identification laws.”

The first book of the Bible teaches, “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” God’s image does not have a color, but it does have a creed. The Apostle Paul put it this way in Galatians 3: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our American ideals long have taught that we are one. The Great Seal of the United States proclaims “E pluribus unum” — from many, one.

But it was just 50 years ago today that statesmen and idealists and people of a deep faith in Almighty God and in America together created the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let us celebrate their good work for justice and freedom. And let us carry on their good work, so all God’s children can live in peace and love in truth.

Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Voter ID Act

Press Release from the Tennessee Supreme Court, Oct. 17, 2013;

Ruling on constitutional challenges to the state’s Voter Identification Act by the City of Memphis and two Shelby County voters, the Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously declined to overturn the Act.

The Act, which was passed in 2011, requires voters to present government-issued photographic identification in order to cast a ballot in state or federal elections. As originally written, the Act authorized several acceptable forms of identification, one of which was a valid photographic identification card issued by an entity of the State of Tennessee.

In response to the new law, the City of Memphis Public Library began issuing photographic identification cards to its patrons. Shelby County residents Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell attempted to vote in the August 2012 primary using their library cards but were turned away by election officials.

Prior to the 2012 general election, Turner-Golden and Bell, along with the City of Memphis, filed suit, arguing that the photographic identification requirement violated state constitutional protections and that the City of Memphis library cards were valid identification.

The trial court denied relief on all counts. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the library cards were acceptable identification under the Act, but also concluding that the photographic identification requirement was constitutional.

Because early voting for the 2012 general election was underway, the Court of Appeals ordered election officials to accept cards from the Memphis Public Library. The Supreme Court granted review in November of 2012 and ordered election officials to continue to accept cards from the Memphis Public Library during the general election.

On April 23, the General Assembly amended the Voter Identification Act so that cards issued by municipal libraries were specifically excluded as valid identification. Because of the April 2013 amendments, the Supreme Court first ruled that all issues pertaining to the validity of the Memphis Public Library cards were moot.

In addition, the Court ruled that the individual plaintiffs, Turner-Golden and Bell, had legal standing to challenge the Act, but the City of Memphis, which obviously did not have a vote, did not.

Finally, the Court held that the version of the Act in effect at the time of the 2012 primary election met constitutional standards, concluding that the legislature has the prerogative to enact laws guarding against the potential risk of voter fraud and determining that the additional requirements placed on voters were not so severe as to violate protections set out in the Tennessee Constitution.

Guv Inks Tighter Voter ID Provisions

Library cards and other types of county-or-city-issued photo ID cards are no longer enough to cast a ballot in Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a General Assembly measure outlawing their use at polling places.

The bill, sponsored by Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, was an initially more extensive overhaul of the state’s existing voter ID law.

Most notably, it aimed to add college ID cards — both for students and staff — to the list of acceptable forms of identification.

That effort drew skepticism from some other Senate Republicans, but Ketron’s argument that the changes would make the law more “consistent” eventually won out in the upper chamber. The Senate passed the legislation 21-8. Four Republicans voted “no.” They were Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet, Mike Bell of Riceville, Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Jim Summerville of Dickson.

However, Ketron’s reasoning fell on deaf GOP ears in the House.

Sponsor Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, readily accepted an amendment from House Local Government Committee Chair Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, that stripped the college ID provision. The language nixing library cards stayed.

Hill told members of the House during floor debate on the measure back in March that his committee removed college IDs because they felt the cards were “too easy to duplicate, they’re too easy to access, too easy to acquire.”

“Some of them do not even have expiration dates on on them, and that poses a danger and a hazard to the voting process,” Hill said.

While discussion in the Senate focuses almost entirely on the college ID issue, some lawmakers in the House were equally vocal in their concern regarding the move to ban the use of library cards on election day.

Chief among them were Democrats from Memphis who said the legislation as a move to overrule a state Supreme Court decision allowing library cards to be used in that city.

Johnnie Turner didn’t mince words, calling the proposed changes “a form of voter suppression,” and chiding House Republicans for meddling in local affairs.

“Locals have voted for, it has been approved by the courts,” Turner said. “Speaker after speaker after speaker will say, ‘We don’t want the federal government telling us what to do.’ And yet, on the state level, we’re doing the same thing.”

Antonio Parkinson, also a Memphis Democrat, said he felt he had been “hoodwinked” and “bamboozled” by Republicans. He accused GOP lawmakers of focusing attention on the more contentious issue of college IDs to draw scrutiny away from their real objective to nullify the decision of the state’s courts.

Going heavy on the sports metaphors, Parkinson said “the end run play was ran and you scored a touchdown, scored the final dunk and now you’re on the House floor with this bill.”

“The point of the matter was simply this,” Parkinson continued. “To run interference of a decision that was to be made by the Tennessee Supreme Court in regards to library cards that were being proposed to be used by the city of Memphis.”

The House passed the bill, largely along party lines, by a vote of 65-30 and the Senate subsequently concurred with the House version, dropping the college ID language with little discussion on the floor.

Voter Photo ID Bill Passes, Sans Use of Student Cards

With a near party line vote of 23-7 in the Senate Thursday, all that remains to block state-funded college IDs as valid identification for voting in Tennessee is the governor’s signature.

With no explanation, Senate Bill 125 sponsor Bill Ketron rose and simply said he would “move to concur” with House Bill 229 as amended. The Republican senator from Murfreesboro noted that one of the amendments from the House “retains the present law prohibition on the use of student identification card to veria person’s identity.” The other corrected a typographical error.

This was in stark contrast to a statement Ketron issued the previous week: “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

Sen. Jim Kyle, D- Memphis, and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, both spoke in favor of allowing student IDs.

“All the photo ID does is verify that you are the person who registered to vote,” Kyle said. “We sometimes seem to be confusing the idea of having a photo ID and the right to go vote. You don’t have a right to go vote unless you have registered to vote and have met the criteria of registration to vote.”

The 15-term senator also expressed a desire for legislation to go further and “give citizens the opportunity to use any valid form of governmental-issued photo ID, but we’re not going to go there. This Senate doesn’t want to do that.”

Kyle attempted to mount an effort to send the bill to a conference committee to reconcile the initial differences in each chamber about allowing student IDs.

Overbey said he believes that a student ID card does meet the standard of the other photo IDs allowed by the bill. Overbey also disclosed a potential conflict of interest based on his role as a trustee for Maryville College, invoking the legislature’s Rule 13.

“I believe in the principle of having a photo ID to ensure that the person going to vote matches a properly issued identification card,” he said. “Folks, I know of situations where folks obtain a false driver’s license, but we do allow driver’s licenses to be used.”

With only those comments, the amended bill passed the Senate along party lines, except for Overbey, who joined the six Democrats in voting against it.

During his weekly media conference following Thursday’s session, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the bill ended up being what the majority of senators initially wanted when Ketron introduced SB125 earlier this year.

“The bottom line is all of us, to begin with, did not want student IDs included,” Ramsey said. “We simply did it because it helped our case in court if it ever got challenged again.”

Student IDs are allowed in Indiana under the voter ID legislation that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, which Ketron had used as a model for SB125.

In addition to college IDs, the legislation would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of library cards is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law.

Because both HB229 and SB125 are now one and the same, the legislation heads to governor’s desk for his signature.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

Bickering Over Voter ID Bills Ongoing

Legislation designed to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law generated heated exchanges and raised more questions than answers on the House floor before the final vote left the bill at odds with the Senate version.

Earlier this week, the House substituted HB229 for SB125. The House also approved an amendment barring students from using their IDs from state-funded colleges to vote – a move the Senate sponsor says he will fight.

Bill KetronBill Ketron

“The Senate voted 2-to-1 against disallowing state-issued college IDs when that amendment was before us,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, who initiated the legislation. “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

When or if that committee may be convened remains up in the air, according to a legislative assistant the Murfreesboro Republican.

In addition to college IDs, the bill would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of the latter form of identification is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law. 

The House floor debate about the legislation became rather heated at times, and even though other issues surfaced, it passed 65-30. The Senate version, which allows students IDs to be used, passed earlier this month 24-3.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Democrat from Memphis, called the bill “another form of voter suppression.” Fellow Memphis Democrat Rep. Antonio Parkinson claimed he was “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” because the bill that passed the House Local Government Subcommittee allowed student IDs to be used, but an amendment in the full committee stripped that provision.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick emphatically proclaimed, “This talk about voting suppression is just not true!”

The Chattanooga representative said the legislation is designed to stop voter fraud. He said that “a state Senate election was stolen in the city of Memphis just a few years ago” and that a recent documentary had a chairman of the NAACP talking about “the machine in Memphis” that would load people on a bus and take them to multiple polling stations to cast their votes “over and over again.”

Republican Rep. Vince Dean, of East Ridge, and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong, of Knoxville, expressed concerns about blocking out-of-state IDs for those who own property in Tennessee but live in another state.

Rep. Susan Lynn, who sponsored the House bill, said she was not sure whether the state would issue an ID to a nonresident.

“What we’re doing with this legislation is trying to most closely match the legislation that passed in Indiana, because that legislation did survive all the way to the United States Supreme Court,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said.

Armstrong claimed the bill would change the way the city of Knoxville elects its mayors and city council members because property owners are allowed to vote in municipal elections even if they don’t live there.

Had the bill been in effect when Gov. Bill Haslam first ran as mayor of Knoxville, Armstrong said, the outcome could have been changed. Three thousand property owners voted, and “a lot of them live out of state.” Haslam won by 1,500 votes.

“Now we have a sitting governor that benefited from the law,” Armstrong said.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Bill to Block College IDs for Voting Draws Dem Doubts

Questions from Democrats about the true intent of legislation drafted to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law peppered discussion in a House committee Tuesday.

The legislation would have allowed voters to use college IDs as a form of accepted identification. The bill would rewrite a section of the current code that blocks their use. In HB 229’s original language, college IDs were simply not mentioned.

Rep. Jeremy DurhamJeremy Durham

However, that changed with freshman Rep. Jeremy Durham’s amendment that “basically just eliminates the college IDs part of the bill,” Durham told the Local Government Committee. “I think it’s good public policy to make sure the right people are voting.”

The amendment drew a slew of questions from Democratic committee members as to the true intent of the bill.

Rep. Bo Mitchell, of Nashville, made the argument that state-funded institutions of higher learning are “part of the state of Tennessee” because they receive funding from the state.

“There’s plenty of people who get direct money from the state, but I don’t want them to write down on a napkin who’s qualified to vote,” Durham, R-Franklin, said.

Rep. Larry Miller, of Memphis, was one of three Democratic members to ask either Durham or House sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, if they could describe any “real-world occurrences” where students had committed fraud using college IDs to vote. Neither could provide an example.

When Rep. Mike Stewart, of Nashville, asked Durham for an example of a problem with college IDs, Durham said, “I suppose that the real problem is if we stick with just state and federal, I think that’s better than having 20, 30 different forms of ID from all these different state-funded universities.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, of Memphis, questioned what effect the bill may have on a decision before the Tennessee Supreme Court regarding the use of photo library cards as acceptable ID. The bill forbids using them to vote as well.

“A court decision would not affect the current law,” Lynn said. “A judge is not a lawmaker, and a judge can’t just deem that local IDs are acceptable if the General Assembly has passed a law saying that they are not acceptable, and the governor has signed the law.”

The companion bill, SB125, passed the full Senate last week. However, it allows college IDs to be accepted as valid forms of identification but disallows library cards and out-of-state IDs.

Because the two chambers’ versions differ, it is possible that a conference committee will be appointed to try and reach an agreement, which is necessary before final passage is possible.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Ketron Files Bill to Permit Use of College Photo IDs for Voting

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 4, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) will present legislation in the Senate State and Local Government Committee tomorrow that would authorize the use of student photo IDs as acceptable identification for voting purposes. Senate Bill 125 also clarifies that locally issued photo library cards are not allowed under Tennessee’s voter ID law.

“This legislation allows photo IDs issued by state community colleges and state universities as an acceptable form of identification,” said Senator Ketron. “We allowed the use photo identification of faculty members of our state colleges and universities under the original Tennessee law which passed in 2011. We believe that this state issued ID has worked as a sufficient form of identification and that students should also be included.”

Ketron said the legislation clears up any confusion regarding locally issued cards which he said were not supposed to be allowed under the original law passed in 2011. This includes any library cards issued by local governments.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last fall that library cards issued by the Memphis Library were an acceptable form of identification for voting purposes. The court said that the 2011 law did not clearly spell out that locally issued photo identification cards were not allowed. The state appealed that decision.

“We considered locally issued cards when debating the original bill, but after reviewing the process, decided that the safeguards were not in place to ensure the integrity of the ballot like state and federally issued identification,” said Senator Ketron. “We continue to believe that the safeguards are not in place to use these cards as acceptable identification for voting purposes.”

“This is simply a bill to make it clear that the photo identification must be state or federally issued photo ID cards, and that students attending state universities can use their photo ID when voting,” he concluded.

State: New Voter ID Law Proving a Success

Tennessee’s 2011 law requiring voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot had little apparent statistical effect on citizen access to the polls in the general election, records from the Secretary of State’s Office show.

Of the 2.45 million votes cast during the election, 674 provisional ballots related to the new photo ID law were filled out. Of that total, 178 voters returned with proper photo identification and had their ballots counted, according to records.

The new law states that voters who come to the polls without a photo ID may still vote using a provisional ballot. Voters can then return to the polls within two days with a valid ID, such as a driver’s license, and their vote will be counted.

“It’s not even 1 percent of the vote,” Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay said.

The share of voters who did not have their provisional ballot counted because they lacked photo ID comes to roughly .02 percent of all votes cast.

The Nov. 6 election was the broadest test to date of the voter ID law, and lawmakers who supported it say it is proving a success.

“From the moment this law was introduced opponents have been screaming that the sky was falling in ways that would shame Chicken Little,” Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement. “The numbers have shown otherwise. Photo ID provides voter protection, and now we have proof.”

Shelby County had the most voters casting provisional ballots due to the voter ID law, with 134 cast. Records show 15 of those voters returned with the required identification. Davidson County came in second with 41 voters casting provisional ballots.

“When I see these numbers and then open the paper and see obvious examples of voter fraud in Philadelphia and Cleveland, I rest comfortably knowing that Tennessee has done the right thing in protecting the franchise,” Ramsey said. “What these numbers reveal is that the only thing Tennessee’s voter ID law suppresses is voter fraud.”

When the Republican-controlled Tennessee Legislature passed the photo ID bill, opponents argued the measure was not designed to protect voter integrity, but rather was a deliberate move to discourage groups that tend to vote Democratic, such as the elderly and minority voters.

They say the real takeaway from the recent election is not that the vast majority appear unaffected by the voter ID law, but that potentially hundreds of otherwise eligible voters may have been turned away.

“Those numbers, they may seem low to you, but they’re not,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a voter advocacy group.“That’s a good chunk of people who don’t have a voter ID.”

Mancini has opposed Tennessee’s voter ID laws. This week, for example, she said that the Davidson County Election Commission “utterly failed,” citing hundreds of voters experiencing problems at the polls on Election Day, including not being able to access provisional ballots.

“If one voter is kept from casting their vote because of this law then it’s one vote too many,” she said. “The other thing is that we’ll never really know many people showed up at their polling place, saw the sign about having a photo ID and just left.”

The Secretary of State’s Office maintains there were few problems at the polls, and that there’s another side to those arguments.

According to Fontenay, “Even one person impersonating a voter is one too many in our eyes. Their argument is that they have no way of knowing how many people might not have had an ID and might have stayed home. Our argument is that we have no way of knowing how many people might have, in the past, cast fraudulent ballots.”

While those are open questions, what seems clear is that public opinion is on the side of photo ID.

A poll conducted before Election Day by the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group showed that 81 percent of Tennesseans approve of the law requiring people to show a photo ID before voting.

Tennessee is not alone in the debate over requiring an ID to vote.

Ten states in addition to Tennessee require a photo ID to vote. Twenty states, such as Massachusetts, California, Nevada and West Virginia, do not require some kind of identification to vote.

In all, 30 states have laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

And that number could rise, according to the NCSL, because a total of 33 states have passed voter ID laws.

Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are among them, but those measures are tied up in court battles or, in the case of Mississippi, require both legislative approval and federal sign-off via the Voting Rights Act.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Memphis Library Cards OK for Voter ID, Court Finds

Cards issued by the Memphis Public Library are acceptable identification for voting purposes, the state Court of Appeals determined in a ruling today that also upheld Tennessee’s photo ID law.

The 18-page opinion was a partial victory for the city, which had pushed to have the new law declared unconstitutional but, if it was upheld, to force election officials to accept the library cards, which include a photo.

The court determined that the city of Memphis qualifies as “a branch, department, agency or entity of this state,” the standard written into law in 2011 by the Legislature. Lawmakers said voters could cast ballots using photo IDs issued by such entities, or by other states or the federal government.

The city in its argument for finding the law unconstitutional had said it imposed undue costs on voters and violated the equal protection clause since voters casting mail-in ballots are not required to show photo ID.

The court dismissed those assertions.

The requirement that prospective voters present photographic identification to vote in person is not an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote under the Tennessee Constitution.

More from the decision:

In absentee voting, the voter does not appear before an election official and, therefore, cannot present photographic identification.

Such a requirement in the context of absentee voting would be nonsensical. We hold that requiring in-person voters to provide photographic identification while not requiring absentee voters to do so does not violate Article XI, Sec. 8 of the Tennessee Constitution.

Rep. Debra Maggart, who sponsored the photo ID law, criticized the decision.

“While I am encouraged our law was ruled constitutional, the fact the Court decided to add to it is disappointing,” Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said in a statement. “Not only has the Court gone beyond the clear intent of the law by allowing library cards, it has also created an exception for the city of Memphis that falls below the standard for the rest of Tennessee. This is the definition of ‘legislating from the bench’ and, frankly, is unacceptable.”

Maggart won’t be around to push back against the court with any legislation after being defeated in the August primary by newcomer Courtney Rogers.

Two GOP lawmakers who will be, and will wield far-reaching power to shape any such legislation, responded to the ruling.

“I might not have ruled that way, but they are the court. They are the law of the land,” House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in an interview with TNReport. Harwell said she would need to review the court’s decision before commenting further but that she would not be surprised if the Legislature took action.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the court had not properly interpreted the will of the Legislature.

“While allowing library cards clearly violates the legislative intent of this law, the court rightly affirmed the law’s constitutionality,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said in a statement.

Tennessee Citizen Action, a left-leaning advocacy group that has opposed the law, cheered the portion of the ruling allowing for library cards.

“It should send a clear message to the Tennessee State Legislature that their attempts last session to limit allowable IDs to only a handful was both restrictive and excessive,” Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, said in a statement.

Most Tennesseans support the law, according to a Middle Tennessee State University poll taken earlier this year.

The state’s photo ID law is among the strictest in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven states require photo identification at the polls. In six others, photo ID laws are being litigated or still require approval from the Justice Department.

Nineteen states require nonphoto identification at the polls, according to the NCSL.