Rising public anger, concern and frustration with the state's new voter photo-ID law was entirely predictable — and as a needless as the law itself.
Voter fraud, the Republicans' pretext for passing the law in Tennessee and a number of other newly Republican-controlled state Legislatures, is and has been exceedingly rare in Tennessee and most states.
The law's main effect, and chief partisan political purpose, is that it will likely disenfranchise many Democratic-leaning voters -- mainly seniors, minorities and lower-income citizens -- who simply have never obtained a qualified photo-ID document, such as a photo-driver's license or passport, because they have never needed to get one. They ride buses, or they are aged or home-bound, or their old driver's license let them opt out of a photo when they reached the age of 60.
But if they fail to get a bona fide voter ID card before the next election, the law, akin a poll tax, will disenfranchise them. If they go to the polls without a qualified photo-ID, their old standby voter registration card, even if their signature matches the one on that card and on the precinct match list, won't be good enough to let them cast a ballot.
Fortunately, county election commissions officials and voter register advocates here and elsewhere in the state have begun campaigns to alert voters to the requirements of the law, and to help them meet those rules, which can be onerous and time-consuming.
The advocates' work is needed. As a report by this paper's Ansley Haman confirmed Tuesday, many voters yet do not know about the new law. Joe Rowe, a veteran grass-roots worker in minority affairs, is among those helping start the Hamilton County Voter Empowerment Team to aid churches and civic organizations reach qualified voters who need help to get a qualified voter ID. His view is that the new law is a throwback to the pre-civil rights era "in terms of empowerment, jobs and justice."
"All you have to do is go to the bus lines and see people without driver's licenses," Rowe asserted.
"People don't realize this is a law," said Hamilton County Election administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan. She added, "Nobody can tell me there was voter fraud in Hamilton County."
State lawmakers -- under strong criticism regarding the law and pressure from a state attorney general's adverse ruling -- did finally agree to make a state driver's license ID free for the purposes of voting just before they passed the law. Even so, the process for many voters is still a barrier to voting.
To obtain a free driver's license photo-ID, residents must travel to a state driver's license center -- less than half of Tennessee's 95 counties have one. There, they must produce proof of citizenship, such as a certified birth certificate or qualified federal confirmation, as well as a voter's registration card, and two documents that confirm residency, such as a current utility bill or bank statement.
Then they must wait in lines that can take hours for regular driver's license applicants to pass through. One st ate official claimed that express lines would be available for free photo-ID licenses for voters.
There's great irony, and blatant disregard of voters' rights, in this process, which the state says will cost an additional $438,100 this year. It would be far simpler, and cheaper, for people who already possess a voter's registration, and also those seek one, to go directly to their friendly local county Election Commission and obtain a photo-ID registration card. Those who already have a valid voter registration card -- the same documents are required -- could simply swap their old card for a new one.
State officials, however, claim it is too expensive to give each of the state's counties a photo-ID card machine. That's baloney. They very obviously just do not want to make it easy for certain voters to register or to update their existing registration card.
Regardless of one's politics, this is gross and unjust interference and tampering with a citizen's right to vote. The law should be changed.
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