Tennessee’s first-year law requiring valid photo identification to vote faces its biggest test as early voting for the Nov. 6 general election begins today.
Acceptable photo IDs include a Tennessee driver’s license, U.S. passport, Department of Safety photo ID, U.S. military photo ID, federal government photo ID, or a gun permit card with a photo, according to the law.
A college-issued photo ID will not be accepted.
The city of Memphis and two Memphis residents are challenging the law by claiming it imposes “an undue burden” on the right to vote.
Their lawsuit against the state — which was rejected by a Davidson County court — claims as many as 10 percent of Tennessee’s 3.9 million voters do not have a picture ID card.
That lawsuit, scheduled to be heard by a Tennessee Court of Appeals on Thursday, also claims a library photo ID should be sufficient to cast a ballot.
When asked how that lawsuit might affect early voting, Sullivan County Elections Administrator Jason Booher said: “We would follow the ruling of the court or the direction of the State Coordinator of Elections.”
Seventeen states require a photo ID to be presented at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
“Some of these are ‘strict’ voter ID laws, in that voters who fail to show photo ID are given a provisional ballot and must eventually show photo ID in order to get that provisional ballot counted,” the NCSL said. “Others are ‘non-strict,’ and voters without ID have other options for casting a regular ballot. They may be permitted to sign an affidavit of identity, or poll workers may be able to vouch for them if they know them personally.”
The GOP-controlled Tennessee General Assembly’s move to pass the photo ID law was inspired by a 2005 Memphis special election where the identities of dead voters were used to cast ballots in a tight state senatorial race.
On Saturday, Nov. 3, the state driver’s license testing station in Boones Creek will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to issue a free photo ID to voters only.
Early voting in Sullivan County will be held Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on two Saturdays, Oct. 20 and 27, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Voters without an acceptable photo ID will be provided the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot and present a photo ID at the Sullivan County Election Commission office in Blountville no later than Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. in order to have their ballot counted.
“Voters may cast their ballot during early voting at any of the three early voting locations,” Booher said. “However, on Election Day, voters must cast their ballot at their designated precinct.”
Voters who vote absentee by mail are exempt from the requirements.
Early voting locations include the Sullivan County Election Commission office in Blountville, Kingsport Civic Auditorium and National Guard in Bristol, Tenn.
Early voting in Tennessee concludes Nov. 1.
Voters will make choices for president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, state Senate and House, one Sullivan County Commission seat and one constable.
During the August primary, 326,876 Tennesseans voted early or absentee by mail, easily surpassing the previous high for an August election during a presidential year. The previous record in August 2008 was 217,441.
For more information and to view a sample ballot go to www.scelect.org.
The Tennessee Division of Elections has a toll-free hotline number for anyone who has questions or experiences problems during the voting process. That number is 1-877-850-4959.
Virginia’s in-person absentee voting at the election registrar’s office began Sept. 21 and ends at 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. Virginians eligible to vote absentee include military service members and citizens overseas, students and others out of town on Election Day, those medically unable to get to the polls, and people with work or religious conflicts.