Cooper: Photo ID requirement doesn't limit voter turnout

Campaign signs dot the green spaces outside the Hamilton County Election Commission off Amnicola Highway in 2014.

Democrats are barking up the wrong tree if they believe photo identification is responsible for the state's low voter turnout.

Late last week, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, told reporters the state's 2011 law requiring voters to have officially issued state or federal government photo IDs was particularly detrimental to women, elderly, college students, black and Hispanic voters.

She pointed out the state ranked No. 50 of the states and Washington, D.C., in percentage of registered voters casting ballots in the 2014 mid-term elections.

However, in 2012 when President Barack Obama was running for re-election and a year after the voter ID law had been signed, the state was 46th, an improvement of four places from 2014, when there was no presidential election. When Obama ran the first time in 2008, but before the ID law had been implemented, the state was 43rd.

Then, in the controversial November 2016 election, 61.92 percent of registered voters cast ballots, up 25.95 percent from the 2014 election Gilmore referred to. In that election a year ago, the Volunteer State was above the national average, which is listed by online sources from 55 to 61.4 percent casting ballots.

In other words, people vote when they want to vote, not because they can't.

Frankly, we wish they would vote more often. There is no better way to participate in how your local, state and federal governments are run than through your vote.

In addition, the Tennessee secretary of state's office has made registering to vote and, if necessary, getting a photo ID, so easy it is nearly impossible not to be able to do either, if legally qualified.

We did sympathize with - and supported the passage of - the very niche voter segment that would have been affected by a bill introduced during the 2017 legislative session by Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga. Her bill would have affected voters like her 94-year-old mother, who was born at home and never issued a birth certificate (because blacks weren't allowed in hospitals at the time). It would have allowed potential voters over age 65 to establish their identity with Social Security, Medicare or other cards. Nevertheless, neither her bill nor other voting rights bills made it out of subcommittee.

To facilitate voter registration - and in spite of the rhetoric about lack of voting rights often spouted by Democrats - the Republican-led legislature passed in 2016 and implemented in 2017 an online registration system. And as to the photo ID, the secretary of state's office allows a variety of exemptions (nursing home/assisted living residents and indigent voters, for instance), issues free photo IDs at driver service centers and allows a number of documents that would qualify.

No, we believe Democrats would be better off determining if they're on the right side of the issues rather than arguing about not being behind an ID camera.