State House Speaker Beth Harwell shot back at Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin Tuesday for criticizing Republicans in the Tennessee legislature for requiring photo ID for voters beginning with next year’s elections.
Joined by Congressman Jim Cooper in a visit to Nashville on Monday, Durbin, the U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, accused Republicans of trying to disenfranchise the poor, minorities, the elderly and other traditional Democratic constituencies by making it more difficult to vote.
“I would suggest to our federal elected officials that they get their own house in order first,” Harwell said in a statement. “In an era of rising deficits, ballooning debt, and bloated federal government in Washington, Dick Durbin and Jim Cooper have chosen to ignore those problems and come to Tennessee to trample on states’ rights. No wonder Congress has an 82 percent disapproval rating. Congressman Cooper has assumed the Washington mentality of not respecting states’ rights.
“The Tennessee General Assembly has balanced a budget, kept taxes low and protected our elections. We are doing just fine without Washington’s help,” she said.
Republicans contend the photo ID law is needed to combat voter fraud, and Harwell repeated this claim in her statement. But in an interview Tuesday, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins could name only one confirmed instance in Tennessee of voter impersonation — the act that photo IDs presumably are intended to stop.
Goins added, however, that without photo IDs, officials could not tell whether someone was trying to vote illegally by posing as an eligible voter.
“It’s like this: How do you know someone’s speeding if you don’t have a radar gun? We haven’t had a mechanism to detect it,” Goins said.
Goins pointed out voters can use expired driver’s licenses with pictures and expired military ID as well as handgun carry permits. The state is offering free photo IDs at its driver service centers if residents certify they’re going to vote.