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<br />Voter ID law: To repeal or not to repeal

State Democratic Party leaders bent on reversing Tennessee’s three and one half month old Voter Photo ID law see more than a glimmer of hope for its repeal but say the public needs to get involved to reel in success.

by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

State Democratic Party leaders bent on reversing Tennessee’s three and one half month old Voter Photo ID law see more than a glimmer of hope for its repeal but say the public needs to get involved to reel in success.

The Tennessee State House version of a repeal bill made it out of the State and Local Government subcommittee on a 5-3 vote on Wednesday (March 14), setting up a likely date with the full committee next week. State Rep. Mike Turner (D-Nashville), the bill’s House sponsor, told The New Tri-State Defender that there is a real chance the Republican-dominated legislature could reverse itself.

“There is significant bipartisan support building in the direction to reverse the law as it stands,” said Turner. “What we are learning is that senior citizens, poor people, people in rural areas, handicapped people and more are being hurt and are going to be hurt in their attempts to exercise their rights, and I think the Republicans are beginning to hear the outcry. I think people are beginning to vote their conscious on the bill.”

Still, Turner advises caution. “That does not mean it’s a done deal, but I do believe we have a real strong, sincere chance and we are going to be working hard day and night try to reverse this law.”

Even more caution is advanced by others who – although supportive of the law’s repeal – are concerned that those who need to get government-issued photo identification to be eligible to vote may delay, thinking the law will be stricken.

Voter photo ID legislation and laws are fueling battles on multiple fronts. The U.S. Justice Department this week blocked a new law in Texas requiring voters to show a photo ID. The move was anchored in the Justice Department’s contention that the law would hurt Hispanic residents disproportionately. The Justice Department made a similar move against South Carolina’s new law in December. In that instance, the DOJ concluded that the law discriminated against minority voters.

Critics say such laws, which are in play in 16 states, harken back to the pre-civil rights era of poll taxes and other blatantly racist mechanisms. NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous is expected to denounce such laws when he speaks before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.

“Let’s face it,” said District 88 State Rep. Larry J. Miller of Memphis. “This is not just a local issue. These laws were created and are being put through by the Republican Party to try to cut down on minority support for the president in the upcoming election. That’s why the photo ID laws were created and that’s why it must be stopped.

“The ones pushing it want to fall back on language blaming it on illegal immigration and other false traps, but have you ever seen an illegal immigrant trying to vote. This is strictly about trying to stop (President) Obama.”

Dist. 92 State Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) said the Voter Photo ID law may be revealing something its proponents may have overlooked.  

“Democrats and the black community are not the only ones that have poor people, elderly and others that are being affected by this law. As a matter of fact the GOP represents more people in rural areas overall and it’s causing harm to their own constituents,” Hardaway said.

“More and more of the Republicans are listening to their constituency on this issue, and a lot of others, and realizing that it’s not good for any of us, this state and this nation to keep expending so much energy trying to unravel 50 years of civic progress.”

Shelby County GOP Chairman Justin Joy shared his thoughts about the new Tennessee law in an exchange with the TSD last month.

“Particularly for the elections later this year in August and November, I don’t believe that anyone, and especially anyone who reads the newspaper, is going to have a reasonable excuse that they did not know about the new law or that they haven’t had an opportunity to comply with the law,” Joy said.

“No election is perfect but I think we all want a system where everyone’s vote counts and no one’s vote is canceled out by someone who should not be voting. We have to show photo identification to prove who we are for all kinds of things in today’s world, many of which are not nearly as important as voting,” he said.

“By requiring that people prove their identity with a photo ID card in order to vote, I think we are increasing confidence in the election system.”


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