When Hamilton County Clerk Bill Knowles began offering free photo upgrades to folks who needed a photo ID to vote, he braced his staff for a potential rush of applicants.
But an onslaught never came.
By Friday, less than a month before early voting begins for the March 6 presidential primary, only 177 people had taken advantage of the service, which began in October at the County Courthouse.
“It’s just not been very busy at all,” Knowles said. “It’s nothing people are taking a big advantage of.”
Under a law passed last year by the Tennessee Legislature, registered voters must have a photo ID to vote. The law ordered the state Department of Safety’s Driver Service Centers to provide free photo upgrades to those who didn’t have a picture on their driver’s licenses and also to offer limited-purpose voter IDs to registered voters. Tennessee is the only state that allows drivers to remove their photos at age 60, said state Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons.
As an additional avenue for voters, Gibbons contracted with 30 of the state’s 95 county clerk offices to provide free upgrades for the estimated 126,000 drivers across the state who held nonphoto licenses. The clerks’ offices did not offer the limited-purpose IDs.
The Tennessee Department of Safety estimated about 7,000 Hamilton County residents had no photos on their licenses.
Dalya Qualls, spokeswoman for the Department of Safety, said Friday that 11,356 voter IDs had been issued statewide as of Jan. 17.
Several of the state’s Driver Services Centers, including those in Hamilton County, will be open on the first Saturdays of February and March to provide photo upgrades and IDs for voting purposes.
The March 6 election will be the first major test of the new law.
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 ...