Tennessee House Democrats to renew push to change Tennessee voter ID law

State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, second from left, looks over a House Republican redistricting plan on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - Pointing to Tennessee's cellar-dwelling rankings among states when it came to 2014 mid-term elections voter participation, state House Democrats on Friday vowed to renew their push in 2018 to repeal or change GOP-passed laws they charge are aimed at depressing voter turnout.

"Tennessee is absolutely at the bottom," Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, told reporters.

In a news conference, Gilmore, a former chair of the Tennessee Black Caucus, blamed a 2011 law requiring would-be voters to have officially issued state or federal government-issued photo identification like a driver's license to vote.

She said it disproportionately impacts women, elderly, college students, black and Hispanic voters.

Republicans argue the law is necessary to combat voter fraud. Experts say instances of in-person fraud are rare, but proponents of such laws contend that's because it often goes undetected.

Last year, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center ranked Tennessee No. 50 among the states and Washington, D.C., in terms of the percentage of registered voters casting ballots in 2014 mid-term elections.

Only 29 percent of voters went to the polls in 2014, representing a 6 percent drop, according to Pew.

Tennessee Democratic lawmakers earlier this year unveiled a "People's Bill of Rights" package that included voting rights.

None of the bills passed, including one by Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, that would have allowed people over age 65 who were never issued a birth certificate to get a state photo ID by submitting their Social Security, Medicare or other cards establishing their identity.

Favors said her own 94-year-old mother can no longer vote because of Tennessee's law. Her mother was born at home, the lawmaker said, with the help of a midwife. That was because blacks weren't allowed into Chattanooga hospitals in the Jim Crow era, she noted.

The representative said other seniors face the same dilemma. The bill ultimately failed in subcommittee without discussion.

So did other bills, including one that would have allowed students to use their college-issued photo ID, which Republicans opposed, saying they could be easily forged.

Asked whether Democrats believe they'll achieve any different outcome in the new legislative session that starts in January, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville told reporters that "we're going to continue the fight because it's the right thing to do and it's just that simple."

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.