NASHVILLE - The sponsor of legislation that would require Tennessee voters to show photo identification at the polls said Tuesday that doing so would add integrity to the process, but opponents were concerned the measure may discourage people from voting.
Sen. Bill Ketron's bill was approved 6-3 in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The companion bill has been assigned to a subcommittee in the House.
Present law requires a voter to supply evidence of identification in order to compare the person's signature on the voter's ballot application, but that would no longer be sufficient under the proposal.
The bill specifies that "the identification must bear the name, address, and photograph of the voter."
"I feel it encourages more people to vote because it brings integrity to the system," said Ketron, R-Murfreesboro.
An amendment was added to the bill exempting people in nursing homes.
But Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, still opposed the measure because he believes it's unnecessary. He said his 98-year-old mother doesn't have a photo ID because she's never had a driver's license, but he said that hasn't stopped her from voting.
"All this does is handicap people and make it difficult to vote," Haynes said.
Dick Williams of Common Cause, a group that advocates for stronger ethics and open government, agreed.
"Obviously we want to be sure that people who should not be voting are not voting, but it's as important, if not more important, to be sure that those who should be able to vote are able to vote."
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he doesn't believe the legislation will be a distraction to voters. He said Indiana had a few problems when it first passed similar legislation, but that changed once more people were educated about the law and understood that a photo ID was required.
"A large part is about education and getting the law out there," Goins said.
Under the proposal, a person who is unable to show proper ID will be allowed to vote by provisional ballot. An amendment was added to give the state elections department an additional three days to count such ballots.