The two chambers of the General Assembly are at odds over whether to allow college students to use their university ID as a valid photo identification at the polls, although they agreed to ban local government IDs.
Allowing college students to use their college IDs to vote was adopted by the Senate but stripped from the House version of the bill. Unless one of the chambers changes its mind and goes along with the other, lawmakers could be headed to a showdown in a “conference committee” to decide whether they can get on the same page.
Lawmakers “were afraid of fraudulent IDs, perhaps. I can understand there’s always a fear, but then again, you can make a fraudulent ID for anything,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet), who originally supported allowing students to use their student IDs at the polls before a House committee pulled that provision from the bill. “I don’t know that the college IDs will pass in the House. I really don’t.”
The House version of the bill, passed 65-30 Monday. The Senate bill passed 21-8 earlier this month.
One aspect both sides agree on is locking down what level of government ID poll workers will accept as valid identification. At the polls, the bill would require workers to reject photo IDs from municipalities and counties. Only IDs issued by Tennessee or the federal government would be accepted.
The legislation attempts to address a legal battle brewing in the Tennessee Supreme Court between the state and the city of Memphis, which issued library cards with photos for Memphis voters to use in last year’s August primary election and the November general election.
Originally, state officials restricted valid IDs to any issued by a state entity or federal government, such as a driver’s license, military ID and a handgun carry permit. Memphis city officials took the state to court after residents were turned away from the polls for using cards issued from the library, which the city argued qualified as an entity of the state.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ordered the state to inform poll workers in Memphis to accept the library cards in the November 2012 election. The state Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the case last month, has yet to make a ruling.
Several lawmakers opposed the bill, including Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat, who argued the measure is a form of voter suppression and the bill is trying to run interference on the Supreme Court Decision. Lynn contends the law was never meant to allow libraries to issue photo IDs voters could use at the polls.
“It’s just really clarifying the original law. It was misinterpreted by that local government and I’m sure they found a loophole because of the wording of the text, but we’re just trying to fix that,” Lynn said.
Some lawmakers in the House argued the bill as written wouldn’t allow Tennessee property owners who live out of state to vote, primarily in local elections. Lynn said she hopes to address that issue with the Senate sponsor.
The legislation now heads back to the Senate for its action.