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Democrats claim voter photo ID law will hurt turnout in Tennessee

November 2nd, 2011 9:56 pm by Hank Hayes

BLOUNTVILLE — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester warned Wednesday that low voter turnout will go lower with the state’s new voter photo ID law.

Forrester, while standing with a group of Northeast Tennessee Democrats on the steps of the Sullivan County Courthouse, said Tennessee ranked 49th in voter participation last year.

“To add another layer of difficulty (to vote) ... would further reduce Tennessee’s voter registration,” Forrester claimed during the fourth in a statewide series of TDP news conferences on the voter photo ID law.

That law passed by the GOP-controlled legislature requires all voters to present valid photo identification — such as a Tennessee driver’s license, U.S. passport or military ID — at the polls next year during early voting or on election day.

College student photo IDs aren’t acceptable, but the state is offering free photo IDs to voters with proof of citizenship and residency at driver service centers.

Still, Forrester maintained the law will place a hardship on 126,000 seniors who have a driver’s license without a photo, and on college students.

Four years ago, college students were more likely to support Democrat Barack Obama for president, Forrester pointed out.

“But this is really less about who supports Democrats and who supports Republicans than the basic right to vote and suppressing the basic right to vote,” Forrester noted.

TDP, said Forrester, will ask the legislature to repeal the law while conducting its own information campaign raising awareness about voter photo ID.

Forrester added Democrats will also launch about 20 voter registration drives beginning this Saturday.

In response, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney pointed out the new law is aimed to counter voter fraud.

“A 2008 investigation of Shelby County voter rolls found 5,174 deceased voters still on the rolls and 1,681 voters who appeared on the rolls twice with different addresses...” Devaney said in a prepared release. “The bottom line is that we all know that voter fraud exists, but it seems that Tennessee Democrats would rather look the other way when voter fraud does occur. ... The state of Tennessee has over 3.6 million registered voters. In 2010, 1.6 million of those voters went to the polls and voted in our gubernatorial election. In 2008, 2.6 million of those voters went to the polls and voted in the presidential election. That means 2 million voters stayed home in 2010 and 1 million in 2008.

“It’s these millions of voters each year that are on their precinct election rolls, but never vote; and often times, it is these people who have their votes stolen and never even know it. ... Under the previous structure, there was very little we could do to prove if someone voted multiple times under different names; but with the new photo ID law, we are as close as we can get to one person, one vote.”

Fraud could be an issue surrounding absentee voters, who cast about 2 percent of ballots in Sullivan County in November 2010 and are exempt from the new law.

County Elections Administrator Jason Booher, who attended the TDP event, said absentee ballots are verified by “the signature of the voter” his office has on file.

“There have been situations where we have not been able to verify or match the signature, and we have rejected the absentee ballot as a result,” Booher said. “A lot of times we will have well-intended family members sign for parents, and the law allows for that, but there has to be a witness and an assistance line on the form stating they helped. If we don’t have that, we have to reject the absentee ballot. Absentee ballots are only for those who request them.”

The Secretary of State’s Division of Elections, which held town hall-style meetings on the law Tuesday in all 95 counties, is continuing its outreach effort about the law.

“We never viewed (Tuesday) as a ‘one-shot deal,’” SOS spokesman Blake Fontenay said in an e-mail. “The process for informing the public about this law is a marathon, not a sprint — and our efforts will continue in the weeks and months ahead.”

The Division of Elections has a new video about the law on its Web page at

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