Over the objections of Democrats who said it would place an undue burden on senior citizens and the poor, the state Senate voted 21-11 Monday to require voters to show photo identification.
Republicans argued the new requirement would stop fraud, pointing out some 13,000 dead people and 12,000 felons have been discovered on voter rolls in the past two years. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said his bill addresses “the need to protect the purity of the ballot box.”
“This gives the Division of Elections a tool to detect and deter voter impersonation,” Ketron said.
But Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, called it “a modern-day poll tax.” Naming several Democratic constituencies, he said some voters would have to pay to travel distances to obtain photo IDs so that they could exercise their right to vote.
“If you’re a senior citizen, if you’re disabled, if you’re poor and don’t own an automobile, that’s a substantial burden,” Herron said.
“...The problems that are solved by this, if any, are far outweighed by the problems that are caused by this.”
In a statement, AARP Tennessee State Director Rebecca Kelly also expressed reservations about the bill.
“Voting is the most basic of rights and must be preserved,” Kelly said. “AARP has concerns about any legislation that creates obstacles for eligible voters, particularly those who are older, poor and geographically isolated. There are too few people who make the effort to vote as it is. We should be working to make the voting process easier, not more burdensome.”
The bill lets people who are 65 or older vote by absentee ballot, and anyone without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot to be considered later by election officials.
The Senate has approved the bill three straight years, but it always has failed in the House. This session, it almost certainly will pass the House too and become law, with Republicans now in firm control of the legislature. Eight other states require photo IDs for voting.