A proposed state law requiring voters to show photo identification “unduly burdens the right to vote” and probably would be held unconstitutional by the courts, the state attorney general said Wednesday in a formal opinion.
Because the legislation includes no provision to pay for photo IDs for voters who don’t have them, Attorney General Bob Cooper said the requirement “constitutes a poll tax,” a fee making voting uneconomical for poor people.
Cooper’s opinion points to a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Indiana’s photo ID law because that state gave free ID cards to voters without driver’s licenses. Tennessee charges $10 for an identification-only card.
Over the protests of Democrats, the state Senate voted 21-11 in February to require voters to show photo IDs. 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.”
Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to disenfranchise Democratic voters. They say about 500,000 Tennesseans of voting age have no government-issued photo ID card, and the bill would discourage or prevent many of them — mostly poor and elderly people — from voting.
A separate bill by Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, calls for the state to issue free identification-only cards.