Republicans on a state Senate committee brushed aside the objections of Democrats Tuesday and adopted legislation to require voters to show photo identification.
Democrats say the requirement could keep poor people, senior citizens and other of the party’s traditional constituencies from voting. But Republicans insist it’s needed to prevent voter fraud.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee passed the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote.
“Some people say this disenfranchises voters. I disagree,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the bill’s sponsor. “When a dead person votes or when a convicted felon votes, that disenfranchises some other person who did it legally. I have always strived to protect the purity of the ballot box.”
Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, said, “I’d have to say that some of my constituents think this is voter intimidation.”
“To board an aircraft, you have to have a photo ID,” Ketron replied. “If you want to buy a mixed drink, you have to have a photo ID. Do you we think the purity of that vote is less than buying an alcoholic beverage or boarding an aircraft? I think it should take a higher standard. A picture is worth a thousand words. If that is truly you, it should be on some card, whether it be a passport or a hunting license or a student visa or something else.”
Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, said he worries that his 100-year-old mother will be barred from the polls. She doesn’t have a photo ID, he said. Ketron said his 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.
State elections coordinator Mark Goins said he has discovered more than 10,000 felons on the voter rolls.
“We were able to identify several hundred of those who had actually voted in an election. We have identified thousands of individuals who are registered not only in Tennessee but [also] in other states. There is a legitimate interest in passing this legislation. … It’s a tool that we could use to weed out fraud,” Goins said.
Common Cause lobbyist Dick Williams said his organization opposes the bill because of fears that it might discourage voting.
“Obviously none of us want persons to vote who should not vote,” Williams said. “But if at the same time your process discourages more eligible voters from voting, then that’s the reason why we oppose the bill.”
The Senate has approved the bill three straight years, but it always has failed in the House. This session, it almost certainly will pass both chambers with Republicans now in firm control of the legislature.