Tenn. voter ID law upheld; library card use ruled OK

9:52 am | October 26, 2012

MEMPHIS (AP) — The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the state’s new law requiring voters to show photo identification at polling places and ruled Thursday that election officials must accept an ID issued by the Memphis public library.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled unanimously in a case brought by the city of Memphis and two voters who lacked photo ID and cast provisional ballots during the August primary.

After hearing arguments a week ago, the court expedited the ruling because early voting for the Nov. 6 election is under way.

Attorney George Barrett, who represented those challenging the law, had argued that the photo ID requirement violates the state constitution, which lists the requirements to vote as proof of age, citizenship, residency and registration.

The opinion said the identification requirement is allowed under the state constitution and the cost of obtaining a birth certificate to get a photo ID doesn’t amount to a poll tax.

Janet Kleinfelter of the attorney general’s office had argued on behalf of the secretary of state’s office — which oversees elections — that the library ID wasn’t valid because it wasn’t issued by state government.

The court cited Tennessee case law in finding that the city of Memphis is a branch of the state, so the library card, which was redesigned this year to include a photo, is sufficient for proving identity.

“We note that the Voter Photo ID Act has created much controversy and aroused intense feelings among both its supporters and its detractors. The courts do not question the General Assembly’s motives or concern themselves with the General Assembly’s policy judgments,” the opinion said.

The appeals court also said that showing a photo ID is not a significant intrusion or burden to a voter.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. led the push to get the library cards approved as valid ID. After failing to convince two federal court judges that the library IDs should be allowed, the city’s attorneys withdrew their federal lawsuit and re-filed it in state court.

The Memphis lawsuit named Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins as defendants.

Wharton on Thursday called the decision “truly historic.”

“It was our intent to make voting easier, not more difficult,” Wharton said in a statement. “In so doing, we knew that we were fighting this battle not just for the citizens of Memphis, but for every city and community across Tennessee where you have seniors, the disabled, and people in general in need of greater access and flexibility in obtaining a valid ID for voting.”

Former Republican Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, who sponsored the photo identification legislation, said she was encouraged that the law was ruled constitutional but was concerned the ID issued by the Memphis library won’t be immune from voter fraud.

“How does the library find out if the person is a citizen or not?” Maggart said. “To my knowledge, the library system does not have the capability to make sure that someone is a citizen of the United States.”

In a statement, Maggart also said that the court created an exemption for the city of Memphis that “falls below the standard for the rest of Tennessee.”

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