Tennessee is now one of four “strict” states in which voters must show a photo ID in order to cast a ballot, but the new requirement didn’t seem to bother AARP members Wednesday when the new legislation was spelled out to them
About 50 members listened inside the Johnson City Public Library conference room as Andrew Dodd, Tennessee elections specialist, explained the nuts and bolts of the new law, which takes effect at all polling places beginning Jan. 1.
“It’s just another level of security,” Dodd said. “When you come to vote, we want to know you are who you say you are.”
The AARP volunteer advocates and staff are working with lawmakers and other officials during a statewide tour to talk about issues that impact all Tennesseans, but particularly those over the age of 50. The organization has worked with lawmakers to protect the rights of who they say are the most vulnerable voters and to ensure Tennesseans can get a photo ID at no cost.
“As of July 1, the Department of Public Safety has been offering free photo IDs,” Dodd said. “You will have to sign an affidavit saying you do not have one of the qualifying forms of ID. We’re still more than two months from when this takes effect. The general rule is that any photo ID issued by the state or federal government should be acceptable.”
People older than 60 are not currently required to get a new photos taken each time they have their drivers’ licence renewed. That’s why the state has decided to help out through the Department of Safety where people can get a free photo ID. Two items will be needed: proof of citizenship and two proofs of residency.
“Don’t worry,” Dodd said. “If you show up to vote, you’re not going to be turned away. We’ve modified provisional voting a bit. If you vote provisionally, you’ll have two days after election day to come back and show a valid ID. Once that’s verified, your vote will be counted.”
At the beginning of 2011, 27 states had non-photo voter ID laws. Fourteen of these 27 considered legislation this year to require photo ID at the polls. So far, Alabama, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee have enacted strict photo ID requirements.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Carter County resident Pete Voigt. “Voting is a freedom our veterans gave their lives for, so a little inconvenience — if there is any — is worth it. This is also a good idea, because if an elderly person is injured or in trouble, they may be more likely to have photo identification on them.”
Dodd said there are several exceptions to the photo ID law.
“If you vote absentee or you are hospitalized, you don’t have to have a photo ID,” he said. “Also, some may have religious objections to being photographed. In this case they would need to fill out an affidavit attesting to that fact.”
The following information shows changes in state law as well as new requirements:
n Existing law: Voters must sign an application for a ballot, and that signature and information on the signature list is compared with other evidence of identification supplied by the voter.
n New law: Voters must present to the precinct registrar one form of identification that bears the name and photograph of the voter.
The following shows the changes in acceptable forms of ID:
n Existing law: Voter registration certificate, Tennessee driver’s license, Social Security card, credit card bearing voter’s signature, other document bearing voter’s signature.
n New law: Tennessee driver’s license, valid photo ID card issued by any state, valid photo ID license issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety, valid U.S. passport, valid U.S. military ID with photo.
Other changes in the election law include:
n Existing law: If a voter is unable to present any evidence of identification, they will be required to execute an affidavit of identity on a form provided by the county election commission.
n New law: If a voter is unable to present the proper evidence of identification, the voter will be entitled to vote by provisional ballot in the manner detailed in the bill. The provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter provides the proper evidence of identification to the administrator of elections or the administrator’s designee by the close of business on the second business day after the election.