NASHVILLE -- House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he favors a proposal to have the state's 95 county election commissions issue voter-registration cards with photos to ensure voters have sufficient ID to meet a new state law.
The Republican-led General Assembly rejected a Democratic proposal earlier this year to do that.
Instead, voters without sufficient government-issued ID must go to driver service centers operated by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which are known for lengthy lines.
"As the father of two teenagers, I'm very aware of how long waits are," McCormick said. "I think we need to improve on that."
He said it is "not unreasonable" to have county election commissions provide the service.
To pay for such services, McCormick said, "I think we can cut the budget somewhere else if we need to."
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, said the issue is cost. And most drivers already have photo ID, Ramsey said.
"I think it would be the expense," Ramsey said. "Why would you do that to cover 2 percent or 1 percent of the population that don't have the photo ID when 99 percent already have one?"
An estimated 230,000 of the state's 4.5 million drivers are 60 years or older and have chosen to get non-photo licenses, which are cheaper. According to Safety Department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals, 160,000 of those have been found to be registered to vote, so they must get a photo ID before they will be allowed to vote in elections starting in 2012.
Tennessee has about 3.2 million voters. The 160,000 without photo driver's licenses constitute about 4 percent of the total. The state is expecting to spend about $400,000 to issue photo IDs to them.
Critics of the law, including Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, say there are an unknown number of others who lack licenses or other types of officially sanctioned state or federally issued IDs.
"You're talking about less than 5 percent of the voters," said Ramsey, who spoke prior to McCormick's expressing his concerns. "You'd take 95 percent of the voters to cover those 5 percent?"
Brown said voters seeking ID would face shorter lines and easier access at one of the 95 county election commissions instead of the state's 48 Driver Service Centers.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.