Cooper: Close Birth Certificate Loophole

Cooper: Close Birth Certificate Loophole

March 18th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

A man talks with a driver's license examiner while getting his license at the Tennessee Department of Safety's driver testing center on Bonny Oaks Drive.

Photo by Sean McRae Loftin

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We've made no bones about our support for the 2011 law that requires Tennessee citizens to have a photo identification in order to vote.

A photo identification already is required in so many other instances, and state government has made it easy for potential voters to get one — even if they don't have a driver's license.

But state Rep. JoAnne Favors says they left out a few would-be voters, and one of those is her mother. Her 94-year-old mother, she says, was born at home — being black, her mother's mother wasn't allowed in the hospital in 1923 — and so Favors' mother was never issued a birth certificate.

A birth certificate is one of the documents needed to obtain a non-driver's license photo ID.

So, a bill in the General Assembly Favors has sponsored would allow those without a birth certificate to satisfy state requirements for the ID by furnishing a Social Security card, a Medicare card, a health insurance card "or other satisfactory document substantiating the person's identity."

She said she is willing to designate the relevant age on the legislation at 80, because it's likely most people younger than that were born in a hospital and had birth certificates.

Favors said state Department of Safety officials have reached out to her over the issue, offering help through U.S. Census records, but she rightly says it's not just about her mother but about all the people, as few as there may be, in her mother's situation.

We believe if the Safety Department can remedy the situation on its own for such potential voters, it should do so. But if it takes a state law change, we see no reason why legislators shouldn't be supportive.

During a hearing on the bill that was in the House Local Government Subcommittee earlier this week, Safety Department attorney Matthew Mundy said the department is neutral on the bill.

It was unclear whether Favors' mother, who she said had always been civically engaged, had tried to vote in the past six years since the voter ID law passed, or whether Favors had pursued other methods in an attempt to secure a photo ID for her.

Either way, state officials or legislators should close the loophole.

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