Republicans in the state House approved legislation Thursday to force voters to show photo identification — a requirement that Democrats claim is aimed at building the GOP majority in the next elections.
Republicans tabled eight Democratic amendments during a long debate before voting 57-35 for the bill. The Senate already has adopted it.
Democrats contended the bill is intended to make it harder for their traditional constituencies to vote, disenfranchising poor, elderly and minority voters who may not have photo IDs.
They pointed to a formal opinion state Attorney General Bob Cooper issued this week. Because the legislation includes no provision to pay for photo IDs for voters who don’t have them, Cooper said the requirement “unduly burdens the right to vote” and “constitutes a poll tax,” a fee making voting uneconomical for poor people.
“Our oath, of course ladies and gentlemen, prevents us from voting on a bill that is unconstitutional,” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley told the House.
Republicans said the new requirement would stop fraud at the polls. They said they hope to present legislation later this session that will provide funding to pay for photo IDs for citizens who cannot afford one. Tennessee charges $10 for an identification-only card. Democrats said about 500,000 Tennesseans of voting age have no government-issued photo ID card.
“We want everyone to vote,” Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, said. “We want everyone who is a legally registered voter to be able to do that. I just feel strongly that you ought to be who you say you are when you vote.”
Democrats offered amendments to make the photo IDs free of charge or to waive the requirement for the elderly and others.
“We’ve made it from the days of Andrew Jackson to today in Tennessee electing people without having to show a photo ID,” Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, said. “I’ve looked around to see if there’s any evidence of widespread fraud by seniors in elections. I haven’t found any. No one so far in this debate has shown any evidence of any need to change the system we now have in place.”