Local election commissions and advocacy groups are rolling out campaigns to educate people about a new Tennessee law that will require registered voters to present photo identification at the polls. Election Commissioners say they are worried that people don't know understand the new requirements. And senior and minority groups are concerned that the law, which which go into effect Jan. 1, creates voting "hurdles" for groups less likely to have photo IDs.
Qualified voter IDs
Tennessee driver's license with photos
Gun permits with photos
State-issued photo ID, but not university-issued student IDs
Federal government-issued ID, including passports and military IDs
Documents needed to get free voter ID
Proof of being a registered voter (a voter registration card);
Proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate);
Two proofs of Tennessee residency (such as a copy of a utility bill, vehicle registration/title, or bank statement).
Source: Tennessee Department of Safety, Hamilton County Election Commission
Local election commissions and advocacy groups are rolling out campaigns to educate people about a new Tennessee law that requires registered voters to present photo identification at the polls.
Election commissioners say they worry that people don't know or understand the new requirements.
Senior and minority groups are concerned that the law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, creates voting "hurdles" for groups less likely to have photo IDs, including seniors, minorities and young voters.
The law, which lawmakers say was passed to reduce voter fraud, provides a mechanism for free photo IDs for people who do not have them. Qualified photo IDs include Tennessee driver's licenses, gun permits with photos, any other state-issued ID except for student IDs issued by state universities, and federal government-issued IDs such as passports and military IDs.
"People don't realize this is a law; people are angry," said Hamilton County Election Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. "Nobody can tell me there was voter fraud in Hamilton County."
Mullis-Morgan said her goal is to make sure voters without photo IDs know how to get one free from the state, and that voters who already have photo IDs remember to bring them on election day.
She said she began spreading information about the new law early so voters can be fully prepared in time for the March primaries.
Elderly & minorities
"The biggest concern that my commission has is the elderly," said Fran Green, Bradley County election administrator. "A lot of older people don't have photos on their driver's license because they don't have to."
Tennessee allows people 60 and older to choose a nonphoto driver's license, which will not be sufficient to cast a ballot.
In Bradley, election commissioners have met with area religious and civic leaders to try to get the word out, Green said.
Fran Green of the Bradley County Election Commission opens voter registrations behind voter machines at their office in Cleveland.
"At some point [the voter ID law] will curtail voter fraud," she said.
But the ID law disproportionately will affect black communities, said community leader Joe Rowe, citing NAACP statistics that at least 25 percent of blacks don't have qualified voter IDs.
Rowe has worked in recent months to help form the Hamilton County Voter Empowerment Team, which organizes churches and civic groups to educate eligible voters who may not have a qualified photo ID.
"All you have to do is go to the bus lines to see people without driver's licenses," Rowe said.
The law just adds an additional obstacle for voters, he said.
"The environment today is beginning to mirror the times of pre-1965 in terms of empowerment, jobs and justice," Rowe said.
The voter empowerment program is nonpartisan, he said.
AARP also is working aggressively to notify its senior members, said Advocacy Director Shelley Courington. The AARP wants to ensure members who "go into 2012 and want to vote ... don't have additional hurdles to jump over," she said.
On the state level, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is joining with Tennessee Citizen Action and the NAACP to document what happens when individuals attempt to obtain an ID, said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU of Tennessee's executive director.
The voter ID law provides for free state-issued photo identification cards when voters cannot afford one, but the process requires several documents, including a voter registration card.
A qualified voter must register to vote before applying for a free ID. Voters who already are registered but cannot find their cards must seek a replacement before they qualify for the free ID, Mullis-Morgan said.
She said her office is working on software to expedite the card replacement process for registered voters.
Applicants for the free ID must go to a state Department of Safety Driver Service Center. Voters must present a voter registration card, proof of citizenship -- such as a birth certificate, and two documents proving Tennessee residency -- a copy of a utility bill, vehicle registration or bank statement, for example.
The voter also must sign a sworn statement that he or she does not have a valid government-issued ID, is a registered Tennessee voter and needs a photo ID for voting.
Kayla McGowan, an assistant at the Marion County Election Commission, said some people already have inquired about how to get a free ID.
"They just went right down there and got a photo ID, no problem," McGowan said.
The state's Department of Safety and Homeland Security "has made it a priority to reduce wait times for all customers," said spokeswoman Dalya J. Qualls. Free ID applicants are placed on "express service" status with an average wait of 30 minutes, she said.
The free ID program is slated to cost the state $438,100 this fiscal year.
The law also provides exceptions for those who vote by absentee ballot, voters who are hospitalized or those who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
If a voter shows up to the polls on election day without a photo ID, he or she can cast a provisional ballot and return to the election commission within 48 hours with a valid qualified photo ID.
Hamilton County has more than 200,000 registered voters, and Mullis-Morgan estimates the new law could lead to hundreds of such provisional ballots being cast.
Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at email@example.com or 423-757-6481.
Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...