Cook: The most insulting law of the year

Cook: The most insulting law of the year

January 9th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

It was deeply embarrassing, the 5.2-mile drive from Highway 153 to Red Bank.

Shameful. The red-faced and angry way you feel when someone you care about makes a fool out of himself in public.

I thought of my grandfather, a colonel in the U.S. Army who left his family in Tennessee to fight against World War II fascism.

He suffered ... for this?

I thought of thousands of Americans -- beaten and bloodied -- who marched down streets and into jail cells, all so that casting a vote in America would not be a top-shelf prize but a common right given to all.

Many of them died ... for this?

If you want to vote in any election this year in Tennessee, you must have a government-issued photo ID: a passport, gun permit or government employee badge.

Or, the most common: a driver's license.

I'd wager there are thousands of folks in Hamilton County without driver's licenses. Last week, I wanted to see the journey they would have to take to get a photo ID ... without having access to a car.

The last stop on CARTA's Route 16 is on Highway 153, next to Marshall Mize Ford. It's the closest bus stop to the Red Bank driver service center, one of two places in the county where photo IDs are issued.

I drove the 5.2 miles, and imagined what it would be like to walk it.

Riding shotgun with me: anger, embarrassment and one question like a red light that never turned green: This is what our state government does to its citizens?

There are very few sidewalks. There are few places to walk except the ditch, or someone's yard, or sometimes steep embankments. Cars pass, 50 miles per hour.

Halfway through the journey, Ashland Terrace makes a steep descent toward Dayton Boulevard. There is no shoulder

here, and maybe three feet between the white line and guardrail. It would be nearly impossible to walk this road safely.

"It's kind of crazy," said Billy Salisbury, 24, who walks down Dayton Boulevard almost every day to work. "When it's busy, the traffic rides close to me. I have to walk off into the ditch."

The worst part came when I finally got to the driver's center station, which sat back 100 yards or so from Dayton Boulevard.

There was no sign.

Like icing on this bitter cake, the lack of roadside signage symbolized to me everything wrong with this law.

Voting, one cornerstone of democracy, now hidden from us.

Nashville lawmakers, you want to protect the integrity of the ballot box? Why not fund a mobile bus of sorts, able to process quickly a photo ID for registered voters who don't have one? Two buses per county. Park them at supermarkets, drug stores, bus stops.

Fund a massive voter registration drive. Go into schools. Churches. Make it hard not to register to vote.

Make it nearly impossible not to have a photo ID.

But instead, only 48 out of the 95 counties in our state have driver's service centers, the place where citizens without photo IDs can obtain one.

Only 48. Out of 95.

Nashville lawmakers, how dare you.

The onus, the burden, should always and forever be on you. Servant of the public. Elected representative of the people.

You ought to be as aggressive and threatening as Jerry Garcia, but you've yanked the rug out from under thousands of Tennesseans, making voting -- which so many fought and died to keep a freedom -- into something else entirely.

This law proves that the integrity we need to protect is not at the ballot box.

It's in Nashville.

Why don't you start walking?

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@ blumail.org.