A new Tennessee law requiring voters to show photo identification
at polling stations may hinge on whether it discourages voting by the elderly.
officials are launching an intense campaign this fall to teach hundreds
of thousands of senior citizens about the new voter identification law
that goes into effect just in time for next year's presidential
campaign. The outreach campaign is meant to keep voters - especially the
230,000 Tennesseans older than 60 whose driver's licenses do not have
their pictures on them - from being turned away at the polls for lack of
At stake could be the validity of voter ID laws
themselves in Tennessee and the eight other states that have passed
them. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld voter ID requirements in concept
three years ago, but justices said then that they might reconsider if
opponents could produce actual voters who had been turned away because
they could not get ID.
The requirement is especially controversial
among senior citizens, many of whom have been voting for decades in
Tennessee without having to produce a picture ID. While some seniors
believe the law will combat voter fraud, others say its main purpose is
to suppress turnout among older voters by requiring them to revisit
driver's license stations.
"It is a 2½-hour wait just to get
somebody to see you," Mary Lou Pierce, 73, said over a taco lunch
Tuesday in Bellevue. "It is ridiculous (when) you're talking about somebody's who's got a walker. ... That is just awful, and it is to disenfranchise."
voter ID law passed the state legislature in the spring and goes into
effect for any election held in Tennessee after Jan. 1.
election coordinator has planned a push of email messages, town halls,
public service announcements and, in some cases, individual phone calls
to voters to make sure they have the right identification before they
get to the polls. AARP and the Farm Bureau have joined in the effort, which ramps up next month.
The campaigns come ahead of the law's first major test in the March presidential primaries.
think by the time March gets here, people will be tired of hearing
about the voter ID law," said Mark Goins, the state's election
Law meant to fight against fraud
Proponents say the law will combat voter fraud, a goal some midday
participants in the Fifty Forward program at the Bellevue YMCA said
makes the requirement worthwhile.
"I think they ought to have them," said Dorothy Brown, 83.
Opponents of the voter ID law say fraud is rare
and usually perpetrated by election workers, not voters posing as other
people. They also argue that the proposal will discourage turnout among
the poor, disabled and senior citizens - people who are less likely to
own cars and have driver's licenses, the most common form of picture
A quirk of Tennessee law has made the issue of
special interest to seniors. The state does not require drivers older
than 60 to get a picture on their licenses, a convenience that makes it
easier for them to renew online or by mail.
Nearly one-quarter of a
million Tennesseans have opted not to get a picture, according to the
Department of Safety. Of those, 126,000 are registered to vote, state
The state will issue a photo ID for free to any
voter who says he or she cannot afford one. But to get one, most voters
will have to travel to a driver's license station, which opponents say is especially burdensome to people who are too old or infirm to drive.
is 92 years old and lives in assisted living," Donna Coode, 69, said in
a conversation about the law over a game of mah-jongg. "She has nothing
with a picture on it. ... I can't imagine having to take her."
Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, which has
campaigned against the law, said such situations are more common than
state officials acknowledge.
"I think we're going to find that
there are a lot of those people that don't have the means or the
opportunity to make that trip back to the DMV," she said.
Open to challenge
Goins disputed that claim, saying the law includes enough provisions that it will ensure senior citizens can vote.
list of acceptable IDs is broad enough that many people who do not have
pictures on their driver's licenses will have some other form of
identification, he said. There are also exceptions to the ID requirement
for people in nursing homes, hospitals or voting absentee.
For the law to survive, it may have to meet that high standard of no voters being turned away.
other states, Tennessee has based its law on a 2008 Supreme Court
review of Indiana's voter ID law. In that case, the court ruled that
state officials' interest in protecting the integrity of elections was
important enough to allow an ID requirement.
But that ruling also left some wiggle room for opponents to challenge ID laws again.
original suit challenged Indiana's law on its face, arguing that it was
inherently unconstitutional. But three justices said then that they
might have ruled differently if opponents could have shown that some
voters could not get picture IDs.
Goins acknowledged that any
disenfranchised voters could lead to legal action. But he said the
campaign's main purpose is simply to make sure Tennesseans know what
they have to do to vote.
"I can't find anybody that's going to be
disenfranchised," he said. "But if there is somebody that's been
disenfranchised, there are enough opponents, I'm sure it's going to be
loud and vocal."