Memphis Sues Tennessee Over Voter ID Law
NASHVILLE (CN) - Memphis sued Tennessee, claiming the state's 2011 Photo ID Act will disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.
Memphis, joined by two citizen-plaintiffs, claims Tennessee arbitrarily disqualifies voters who use public library cards and other valid government-issued IDs for voter identification.
The plaintiffs say Tennessee never showed any evidence of the sort of voter fraud it claimed the legislation was written to prevent.
Memphis sued Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. and state Director of Elections Mark Goins, in Davidson County Court.
"On May 20, 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Photo ID Act - Public Law Chapter 323 - requiring Tennessee voters, for the first time in the state's history, to present state or federal government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot at their respective polling places," the complaint states.
"During the legislative process leading to enactment, the General Assembly failed to create any record reflecting the existence of the type of voter fraud the statute was allegedly designed to address."
The Voter ID Act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2012, requires Tennessee voters to show government-issued photo identification, such as a Tennessee driver's license, U.S. passport or government-issued employee ID, to vote in any municipal, state or federal election.
Before the law took effect, Tennesseans could vote by submitting a signed application and showing a valid form of identification with their signature, such as a voter registration card, a Social Security card or a credit card.
Election officials checked the voter's signature against a computerized voter signature list and compared it with the signature on the voter's ID.
But the new law excludes non-photo IDs and even photo identification such as state university student IDs and public library cards, the complaint states.
Memphis claims that Tennessee accepts current or expired out-of-state photo identification cards, including gun permits and fishing licenses, for voting purposes, but turns away voters with public library cards or student IDs issued by the state.
"For example, pursuant to the statute, a current or expired photo identification issued by the State of North Dakota to emergency medical personnel would be valid proof of identity for voting," the complaint states. "No evidence of citizenship or residency is required for such a card and the applicant may upload his or her own picture to be used.
"Likewise, the State of New York issues photo identification cards to those holding professional real estate licenses. There are no specific requirements for proving residency or citizenship for the issuance of such identification.
"Another example is from the State of Alabama, which issues a boating license containing a photograph. Again, there is no requirement for proof of citizenship or residency, or even as a competent boat operator if one is an adult, for the issuance of such a license."
The only exceptions to the photo ID requirement are for hospitalized voters, full-time residents of nursing homes, and voters who are indigent or raise religious objections to being photographed, according to the complaint.
If a voter cannot produce an acceptable form of ID, the state allows them to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. Voters must get acceptable ID within two business days of the election to have their ballot counted.
The city claims the Tennessee attorney general found that the law is probably unconstitutional, as it does not include provisions for free photo IDs, and that "in the absence of such a provision, the photo ID requirement would amount to an unconstitutional poll tax."
In response, Tennessee enacted a law providing for free photo IDs for voters who do not have other valid government-issued photo identification.
Voters can get such identification at Driver Service Centers by showing proof of identity and Tennessee residency.
But Memphis claims the centers that issue photo IDs for voting are few and far between, and hard to reach for people with limited income and mobility.
"It has been estimated that as many as 10 percent of registered voters of Tennessee, numbering 390,000 voters out of almost 3,900,000 registrants, do not have a picture identification card," the complaint states. "That would mean that perhaps as many as 390,000 Tennesseans who are registered to vote may not have the newly required identification."
Memphis enacted a program this year to help citizens get library cards with their photo and signature, to serve as acceptable government-issued forms of identification.
But the city says the state declared in July that library cards are not acceptable for voter identification.
Plaintiffs Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell, who hold library cards from the Memphis Public Library, say they were allowed to cast only a provisional ballot in a primary election, and when they could not get approved photo IDs by the Aug. 6 deadline, their votes were not counted.
They say they are two of 162 disenfranchised voters who could not vote in the August 2012 primary election because they did not have acceptable identification.
Memphis has issued similar cards to 1,643 citizens, some of whom have no other form of photographic identification, according to the complaint.
"In light of plaintiffs' inability to obtain any of the statutorily acceptable forms of photo identification without considerable expense and hardship, the Voter ID Act has effectively denied plaintiffs their right of suffrage in contravention of Article I, Section 5 [of the Tennessee Constitution]," the complaint adds.
The plaintiffs want the state enjoined from enforcing the Voter ID Act unless all registered voters can obtain free photo IDs.
They are represented by George Barrett, with Barrett Johnston.