Green Party sues state to end voter photo ID requirement

Gary B. Gray • Aug 27, 2013 at 8:53 PM

The Green Party of Tennessee filed suit Monday against Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins for violating their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments for imposing a voter ID requirement.

Gray attorney Alan Woodruff, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, filed suit in United States District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, located in Greeneville.

“We’re saying the statute was enacted for an improper purpose,” Woodruff said. “The requirements are unconstitutional on the grounds that they excessively impair the freedom of association rights and voting rights of ‘progressive’ voters. It’s an integrated statute, meaning it’s got a lot of parts, and all parts must work together for it to be constitutional. The Legislature just did not think this through.”

The overall goal is to permanently stop the state from enforcing the voter photo identification set out in TCA 2-7-112. The suit claims Tennessee’s voter photo identification requirement operates to suppress voting by minorities, students, persons of low income and persons living in poverty and the elderly. It also claims the law was enacted for the principle purpose of suppressing the votes of voters likely to support progressive candidates.

A requirement that a person provide proof of citizenship as a condition of registering to vote or retaining his or her status as a registered voter also violates the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act, according to Woodruff. In addition, the suit says wording in the state law does not express the purpose of the identification requirements and that they have not shown to be a more accurate form of verifying a person’s identity than that of a signature.

“I voted for that legislation and I support it,” state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-7th, said late Monday in response to the suit. “Just take a look at our everyday life. There’s all kinds of stuff we have to have an ID for, including renting a car. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to verify voters.”

State law requires all voters to present an ID containing the voter’s name and photograph when voting at the polls, whether voting early or on Election Day. The following forms of ID are acceptable: Tennessee driver’s license with a photo; U.S. passport; Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security photo ID; federal- or state-issued IDs; U.S. military photo ID, including a Veteran Identification Card; or a Tennessee handgun carry permit card with a photo.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can require photo IDs, but Woodruff said the balancing test is whether the state has a legitimate claim that voter fraud occurs in the absence of photo IDs.

“Even if it was a problem, a photo ID won’t solve it,” he said. “The type of ID that can be used is limited. It used to be they would accept an out-of-state ID. We’re also the only state in the country that expressly excludes student IDs. It just doesn’t pass the constitutional threshold. It’s all burden and no benefit.”

The suit includes a myriad of grievances, including arguments that a birth certificate does not establish the identity of the person presenting it; that some registered voters in Tennessee do not have, and never had, a birth certificate; that photo identification cards issued pursuant to state law are only issued at Driver Service Centers; and that three Tennessee counties have no Drivers Services Centers and voters who are employed are burdened by having to obtain a photo identification.

Woodruff acted as co-counsel for Tennessee’s Green and Constitution parties last year when a federal judge ruled in their favor that laws on the books violated the U.S. Constitution and state law by making it unreasonably hard for third parties to get their names on the ballots.

He also ran unsuccessfully in 2012 as a Democrat for the congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st.

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