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Student IDs deemed unacceptable as voter ID under new Tennessee law

By Erica Horton
On October 31, 2011

  • The U of M women’s soccer team celebrates after defeating UAB last week. Joe Murphy

With free admission and discounts to local attractions and restaurants, most students are quick to wield the power of their student identification, but a new law requiring photo identification at the polls next year cuts that power short.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, all Tennessee voters are required to have a photo ID if they expect to cast a ballot. The current law requires voters only to show proof of signature.

Acceptable forms of photo ID include a Tennessee driver's license, a valid photo ID issued by the state of Tennessee or any other state in the United States, a valid United States passport, an employee photo ID card issued by Tennessee or any state in the United States or a military photo ID card.

However, student identification is not included in the list, despite the required photo of the student on an ID card by most colleges.

Senator Bill Ketron, who sponsored the law, said it was passed to prevent voter fraud, and student IDs were excluded as an acceptable form of identification because they are easy to manipulate.

"Well, between the public and the private universities, we felt there probably was not enough control on the issuance of those IDs as there would be in the state," he said. "In the bill, you can even have an expired driver's license or passport to vote. There are 14 or 15 articles you could use with a photo."  

There are also students who attend college who are underage and illegal immigrants, Ketron said.

The genesis of the bill was in 2007 when Ophelia Ford ran for senate and, after winning the seat by 13 votes, was accused of voter fraud.

"There were dead people who voted in that election," Ketron said. "The Republican senate chose not to seat her until an investigation could be conducted as to the validity of those accusations. In the meantime, she sued the Senate Republican Caucus in federal court. It all comes down to the 13 in Ophelia Ford's case. All it takes is one person to disenfranchise my own vote."

Currently, 14 states require a photo ID to vote, according to research by the National Congress of State legislatures.

Some of those states, Ketron said, saw an upturn in the amount of voters after a voter-photo ID law was passed.

To promote and inform people about the law, there will be town hall meetings today in all 95 counties in Tennessee at various times and locations.

In Memphis, the meeting will take place at 6 p.m. in the Shelby County Commission Chambers in the Vasco A. Smith Building at 160 North Main Street.

Steven Mulroy, U of M law professor and voter rights advocate, said the fact that a gun ID will work, but a student ID will not for voting purposes is unfair and that the new law will suppress voter turnout among the elderly, poor, minorities and the disabled.

"It's a solution in search of a problem." Mulroy said. "These groups are less able than others to navigate the system and physically transport to where they need to go to for this to work. They won't be able to go and get the ID."

More frequent than not, tampering with votes is an "inside job," as opposed to someone showing up and impersonating a voter, Mulroy said.

Mark Goins, coordinator of elections for Tennessee, said in earlier drafts of the law, student IDs were acceptable for voting.

"There was some discussion on the house side and retired law enforcement agents on that committee (who) said they saw some (student IDs) that had been faked before," Goins said. "They believe it's easy to fake them, and potentially folks that are not state citizens could come get an ID and fake it."

People who do not have a photo ID but need one can get one for free for voting purposes at any Tenn. driving center, Goins said. Those who already have an acceptable form of photo ID cannot participate in the program.

Those who want the free ID need proof of citizenship, which can be a birth certificate or naturalization papers, and two proofs of residency.

"For students staying in a dorm with no mail, the dean of students or resident adviser can certify (via letter) that they actually live in the dorm," Goins said. "There is no expiration on the photo ID. It's supposed to be used for voting purposes only, but there may be some private establishments that accept them. I doubt it."

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