NASHVILLE - U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., said Wednesday a nonpartisan congressional study demonstrates Tennessee Republican legislators were more interested in voter "suppression" than ballot security when enacting a law requiring state residents to present a government-issued photo ID before casting ballots.
"Many of us suspected this back in 2012. Now we have proof," the Nashville congressman said at a news conference where other critics of the 2011 law spoke. "Tennessee has lowered voting turnout by 2.2 to 3.2 percent, an estimated 88,000 voters."
The Government Accountability Office found that strict voter identification laws passed in Tennessee and Kansas resulted in steeper drops in election turnout, especially among black and young voters, than Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware and Maine, which did not have such laws, between the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Tennessee once was famed for expanding the voter franchise to women, when state lawmakers voted to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment granting women the right to vote. Cooper contrasted that to the photo-ID requirement.
On Tuesday, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a Republican who supported passage of the state's photo-voter law, launched a multifaceted attack on the GAO's report.
Cooper's response included a barb at Hargett, who is elected by the General Assembly but whose name pops up as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2018.
The congressman noted a state law requiring election commissions to hold voter registration drives at every public and private high school is "rarely enforced these days."
But at the same time, Cooper noted, Hargett recently changed the state's "I Voted" stickers given to voters after they cast ballots, to a version that removed the American flag and featured Hargett's name.
Hargett told reporters Tuesday the change was about accountability and not promoting himself. A free smartphone app designed to give easier access to voters on election day also features Hargett's name.
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