Over the objections of Democrats Tuesday, a House committee adopted legislation to require voters to show photo identification.
Republicans argued the new requirement would stop fraud. But Democrats contended it would place an unfair burden on senior citizens and the poor. The Senate already has approved the measure.
“The people across the state want to make sure that we are maintaining the integrity of our ballot box,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, told the House State and Local Government Committee. “We don’t want dead people voting or voter fraud. People have a right to know that their elections are free.”
But Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, called it “a backdoor poll tax,” and Democrats on the committee demanded that Republicans find a way to pay for photo IDs for those who cannot afford them.
“It does discourage voting,” Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, said. “There are over a half million Tennesseans without a driver’s license. That’s a whole lot of people. There are a whole lot of disabled people, poor people, elderly people, the homeless — there are just a whole lot of people who don’t have the luxuries of life that you and I have. We’re all for honest elections. But it’s already illegal to vote in the wrong place or in two places or to vote for the dead.”
The bill exempts nursing home residents, 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 and become law, with Republicans now in firm control of the legislature. Eight other states require photo IDs for voting.