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Voter photo ID is step backward

  • Written by Reginald Tate
In the state legislature these days, lawmakers debate whether to require photo identification at the polls.
 Sen. Reginald Tate

One of our most basic rights in this country is the right to vote. Some of our greatest human rights battles have been fought over the ability to cast a ballot. Because of that, we should never take steps backward to potentially damage those rights by placing undue restrictions on voters.

Yet that is exactly what is happening in the state legislature these days, as lawmakers debate whether to require photo identification at the polls. There is a lot of rhetoric being thrown about claiming that our elections are somehow unsafe or unguarded, and yet the evidence simply doesn’t back it up. Our ballots are not under attack, and our elections are almost always handled in a fair, democratic process by knowledgeable and patriotic volunteers. In fact, the few issues that have occurred recently have been at the hands of new election commissioners, not as a result of some conspiracy from voters themselves.

Requiring photo identification to vote is the equivalent of a new poll tax. It would potentially disenfranchise 500,000 Tennesseans who have no state driver license, and many more who do not have a photo on their driver license. The majority of these voters are poor and unable to obtain a photo ID, as they don’t have the money or the means to buy one. Two-thirds of Tennessee’s counties don’t even have the technology to produce such identification, and those without one often don’t have the ability to travel in order to get one.

Currently there is a bill by my colleague, Sen. Lowe Finney, that would require such photo IDs to be provided free of charge. If lawmakers are intent on passing such a bill calling for photo IDs, they should also be willing to back efforts to ensure there is no additional burden on those who would need to get such identification. There is legal precedent for this requirement in Indiana, and we should do everything we can to avoid a lawsuit that would end up costing Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars just because we didn’t do our homework.

Voting rights should never be taken lightly by citizens or lawmakers. We all have a responsibility to exercise our right to vote, and we as lawmakers have an equally important responsibility to ensure that our right to vote is protected. A voter photo ID requirement runs counter to the spirit of those who tore down hurdles to the ballot box. Now is no time to start rebuilding them.

(Senator Reginald Tate represents portions of Memphis and Shelby County. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (615) 741-2509 or 320 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0033.)

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