published Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Gerald McCormick plan to change Tennessee's photo-ID law draws criticism

Poll
Should employees of cities and counties be able to use local government-issued ID to vote?

NASHVILLE -- House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick's plan to let employees of cities and counties use local government-issued ID to satisfy Tennessee's new photo-ID requirement for voters isn't sitting well with a fellow top GOP leader who sponsored the law.

Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, said she specifically chose not to include city and county-government issued photo IDs for employees because she feared it might be abused by some local governments.

"I have talked to Gerald and he knows how I feel about it, that I worked very hard to model ours after Indiana," Maggart said. "I feel strongly since I know it's passed muster that's the way we should go. So he knows that."

Indiana's law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tennessee's law requires state or federal government-issued photo ID and doesn't include photo IDs issued by cities and counties as well as those issued by colleges and universities.

"Indiana actually had an issue," Maggart said of her reasoning. "I think it was a county government giving them [photo ID] out to people who were not county employees. So that's why we chose to remove the city and county piece of that."

McCormick said he introduced the measure at the request of Chattanooga City Councilman Jack Benson.

"He was saying he couldn't use his City Council ID to vote," McCormick said. "I thought city IDs ought to be allowed. Since then, I've found out the objection to that is it would be easier to make ... fake ids."

Maggart and other proponents argue the bill is necessary to combat voter fraud, although State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, a Republican, can only point to one instance in which someone has been convicted of stealing someone's identity and using it to vote.

McCormick said he also is concerned about voter fraud.

"I'll respect her opinion on it," McCormick said. "I think we should make it as simple as we can."

He said he hopes to address Maggart's concerns and prevent fake IDs or abuse regarding local government-issued photo ID.

"I'd rather work with her on it -- respectfully," McCormick said.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said she is pushing legislation to abolish the new law. She and other critics contend the law discriminates against the elderly, minorities and the poor. Critics have likened it to "poll taxes" once used in the South to deter black voters.

Tennessee's law drew national and even international attention after 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper, of Chattanooga, who is black and has voted for decades, was denied a free photo ID by a Safety Department Driver Service Center clerk in Chattanooga.

Cooper, who has outlived two husbands, didn't bring a marriage certificate to prove she was the same Dorothy Alexander that was listed on her 1915 birth certificate.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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