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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Students Claim Tenn. Voter ID Law Is Unfair

NASHVILLE (CN) - A group of out-of-state college students sued Tennessee election officials in Federal Court, claiming the state's voter ID law discriminates against them.

The class action was filed by the Nashville Student Organizing Committee and nine students against Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Elections Coordinator Mark Goins. All nine student-plaintiffs have ID cards from other states.

The students say the Volunteer State's voter ID law "intentionally discriminates against out-of-state college and university students, and has the purpose and effect of denying and abridging the right to vote on account of age" because it excludes student IDs and out-of-state IDs at the polls. Public library cards are also not accepted.

"At every step of the voter ID law's evolution, Tennessee state legislators have purposely fenced out college and university students, especially targeting out-of-state students, rejecting multiple bills that would have added student ID cards to the voter ID list," the complaint states. "State legislators are on record suggesting that out-of-state students cannot vote in Tennessee, which is contrary to the Supreme Court's precedent in Symm and Tennessee state law."

The referenced decision is Symm vs. United States, 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming that residency questionnaires unconstitutionally denied Waller County, Texas students the right to vote.

Like Symm, the class alleges the Tennessee voter ID law violates the Twenty-Sixth Amendment's right to vote on account of age and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

"Out-of-state students with other states' driver's licenses or ID cards cannot readily comply with the voter ID law and must either forego voting, vote absentee in their prior state, or undergo the arduous process of applying for an identification license at a driver service center," the lawsuit states. "The voter ID law clearly favors in-state student voters over out-of-state student voters."

The state's voter ID law passed in 2011, according to the complaint. The state senate initially allowed some student IDs as accepted forms of voter ID, but the state house amended the bill to exclude them. Attempts to add student IDs to the voter ID list failed in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the students say.

The class action also claims that absentee voting is only available to in-state students, not out-of-state.

The Nashville Student Organizing Committee is a non-profit, student-run group fighting against Tennessee's voter ID law, according to the complaint.

The class seeks a declaration that Tennessee's voter ID law violates the Fourteenth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments and an injunction accepting student IDs as voter ID. They are represented by Douglas Johnston, Jr. of Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison in Nashville.

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