- Category: News
13 Oct 2011
- Written by Tri-State Defender Newsroom
A new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 requires voters to show a state or federal issued photo ID to cast a ballot at the polls in Tennessee. Across the state, there has been considerable consternation about the new law and the possible disenfranchisment of voters because of obstacles associated with getting photo IDS, including long lines at vehicle inspection stations.
Commissioner Bill Gibbons of Safety and Homeland Security on Wednesday detailed an agreement with 30 county clerks – including Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn – to issue photo driver licenses at no charge to registered voters who currently have non-photo driver licenses. The county clerks are existing partners with the department and currently issue renewal and duplicate driver licenses and identification cards to Tennessee residents.
The new pact calls for the county clerks to waive the $4 service fee they normally charge for providing such service. County clerks have agreed to provide the service starting October 17 and will continue through March 12, a week after the presidential primary election.
“This greatly increases the number of locations where registered voters may get photos added to their driver licenses at no charge. It is a simple process, and thanks to our county clerk partners, voters will have more places across the state to obtain photo driver licenses,” Gibbons said.
And, starting in November, driver service centers will be open on the first Saturday of each the month in 15 counties, including Shelby County, said Gibbons. The centers will be open during normal business hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., to make photo driver licenses or IDs for voting purposes only. No other business will be conducted in the centers on Saturdays.
The Division of Elections reports there are approximately 126,000 registered voters who have non-photo driver licenses in Tennessee. Drivers age 60 or older may choose to get a non-photo driver license in Tennessee.
“We are estactic about the latest efforts to accommodate citizens with the new photo ID law,” said Norma Lester, secretary of the Shelby County Election Commission. “It was reported earlier that efforts would be made by the State Election Coordinator’s office to reach out to the citizens over 60 that currently do not have a photo drivers license.”
The local Election Commission is continuing its effort to apprise the public of the provisions of the new law, said Lester.
“We understand many voters are unhappy; however at this point the law has been passed and the only alternative is preparation. We want to remind seniors that they have the option of voting absentee and those votes are counted into final results,” she said.
“We are also asking all ministers and religious organizations to reach out to their membership. We are willing to present to any organization.”
Madeleine Taylor, executive secretary of the Memphis Branch NAACP, expressed her pleasure in seeing that the department of Homeland Security was responding to concerns that the NAACP identified when the photo identification law was enacted.
“They have removed the price of the photo identification, increased access in existing motor vehicle stations and provided more outlets to obtain the identification in counties where there is no motor vehicle station but there are still road blocks to voting imposed by this identification law,” said Taylor.
As outlined by Taylor, here are the NAACP’s outstanding concerns:
• In order to obtain a photo voter identification card a citizen must provide a voter registration card, proof of citizenship and two proofs of Tennessee residency. Proof of citizenship is established with a birth certificate or passport and utility records, vehicle registration or bank statement to document residency. Access to these records still require transportation and fees for the aged or youthful voters.
• It is our understanding that the new law requires people getting a free photo ID to sign an affidavit. Will this affidavit have to be notarized? Have copies been distributed to the community for review?
• Since signed affidavits of indigence and identity are required, what process will be used to vet these affidavits? What specific information will the verifying agency investigate?
• According to the law, if a voter has changed his residence, he/she must complete a failsafe affidavit in order to submit a provisional ballot. What information is the person swearing to in the failsafe affidavit?
• The new law requires those voting by provisional ballot to print their name, social security number, date of birth and to sign the ballot. The law also allows the coordinator of elections to require other identifying information necessary to prevent fraudulent voting. What other identifying information has the coordinator of elections determined might be necessary? Will this information be required uniformly statewide? What measures are being put in place to protect the privacy of the personal information of voters (SS#, D.O.B., etc)?
• What kind of public information campaign is planned in order to educate the voting public about the requirements of the new state photo ID voter law?
“These are only a few of the concerns we have identified in our review of the law enacted by the Tennessee State Assembly,” said Taylor. “Any roadblock to the free exercise of the citizen’s right to vote is an unnecessary burden on the backs of those who can least handle it.
The AARP also has been active in helping voters process the effects of the new law.
“We are pleased that Gov. (Bill) Haslam, Commissioner Gibbons, Secretary (of State Tre) Hargett, and county officials throughout Tennessee are working hard to ensure that Tennesseans can continue to exercise their right to vote after the new law goes into effect,” said Rebecca Kelly, AARP Tennessee state director.
Of the 30 counties where clerks have agreed to provide the service, 21 are in counties without state driver service centers.
In total, there will be 83 locations in 61 counties, including county clerk offices and driver service centers, where voters can convert non-photo driver licenses to photo licenses at no charge. Voters currently without a driver license may go to any of the 49 driver service centers in 42 counties to obtain photo IDs at no charge.
“We are committed to doing what we can to make these IDs accessible to voters who need them. That includes altering employees’ schedules in order to be open on Saturdays in some locations,” said Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of Driver Services.
In Shelby County, the two full-service driver service centers in Memphis, located on Summer Avenue and East Shelby Drive, will be affected by the Saturday-open provision.
To minimize the possibility of wait times during Saturday hours, groups or organizations planning to make a group visit to a driver service center should schedule an appointment by calling Linda Cone at 731-225-0924 or Wanda Adams at 615-251-5309.