Controversial voter photo ID bill heads for Tennessee House

Controversial voter photo ID bill heads for Tennessee House

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By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - State lawmakers are moving toward a big change in the rules governing how people vote.

Current law only requires voters to show some form of identification. It can be a voter registration card, a social security card or even something like a utility bill with your name and address.

The state Senate voted Monday night to require photo IDs for all voters. The legislation has a lot of momentum, passing 21-11 in the Senate.

Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) is sponsoring the initiative that will require voters to provide a photo ID before casting a ballot.

Sen. Ketron didn't return a call from 6 News for an interview Tuesday, but on the Senate floor he read the opinion of a Supreme Court justice to push the initiative through.

"The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a photo ID is simply not severe and does not represent a significant inconvenience over the usual burden of voting," Ketron said.

The League of Women Voters is saying the complete opposite.

"There are people who do not have vehicles. It takes time. They might not have the means to acquire an ID. I just think this is a means to block voter participation in this state," said League of Women Voters President Jamey Dobbs.

Supporters say the goal is to cut down on fraudulent votes, but Dobbs says, "Voter fraud is exaggerated."

She says what's not exaggerated is the negative effect the bill will have on the elderly and the disabled.

According to the state's League of Women Voters, 18% of U.S. citizens 65 or older do not have a current, government-issued photo ID.

The same goes for about 10% of Americans with disabilities. "It is very questionable whether it's constitutional, and it's going to be taken up," Dobbs said.

The League of Women Voters is planning to fight the bill tooth and nail.

The initiative still has to pass the House before it can go to Gov. Haslam. 

There are some exceptions to the proposal. One case would be an indigent voter who can't get a photo ID without paying a fee.

The law also makes an exception for people who have a religious objection to being photographed. Those people would be required to sign an affidavit of identity.

Also the law would not apply to absentee voters or voters at nursing homes.

And if you forget your photo ID on election day, you would be able to cast a provisional ballot and show ID later.

The vote in the Senate was largely along party lines, with 20 Republicans and just one Democrat supporting the bill.

All the East Tennessee senators voted in favor of it.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) says he's interested in stopping voter fraud. He cited two examples when constituents have told him they went to vote and found someone had already used their names.

"It's not too high a bar to require a voter to prove their identity. You have to show ID to buy a bottle of liquor. You have to show ID several times to get on an airplane," Campfield said.

Sen. Jaime Woodson (R-Knoxville) notes that Tennesseans over age 65 have the right to vote by absentee ballot. She points to several recent elections decided by razor-thin margins and reminds the public that every vote counts.

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