First, after January 1, 2012, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, you will have to have a valid photo ID to vote. That means you must have a drivers license, state issued ID card, passport, or military ID to vote using a normal ballot (or machine as the case may be). Any other kind of ID will mean you’ll have to do a provisional ballot and then prove your identity within 4 business days of the election to have that vote count.
Another bill that passed is SB 1666, which provides free ID cards for registered voters. The legislature rightly noted that passing an ID law without creating some avenue to receive an ID free of cost is essentially a poll tax, or at least that’s what the US Supreme Court has held. By providing free ID’s the state avoids the possibility of having the voter ID bill ruled unconstitutional.
Starting Friday July 1st, any registered voter that does not have a current valid photo ID can go to a Driver Service Center Location and get a free ID card for the purposes of voting.
In addition to all that, the voter must sign an affidavit saying they meet these conditions:
(1) Does not have a valid government issued photo identification;
(2) Is a registered voter in this state; and
(3) Needs the photo identification license for voting purposes.
That’s a pretty tall order for folks who can’t afford or don’t have an ID in the first place, don’t you think?
Currently, the ID requirements to vote are pretty low. You only need a voter registration card, Driver’s license, or state issued id, or two of the items in this list.
Now that the state will soon be requiring a photo ID, after January 1, 2012 the bar will be twice as hard as it is now, which will, no doubt come as a surprise to some voters in the March Presidential Preference election.
I spoke with an official at the TN Dept. of Safety and Homeland Security, the agency that issues Driver’s licenses and ID cards, and they said that as of right now there is not a PDF of the affidavit available online. Maybe that will be forthcoming in the next few days. They also said that at some point in the future, people seeking a state issued ID will not be able to leave the office with it, rather it will be mailed to them. So, for instance, if you forgot to renew your license or need a new photo and go to the office to get it, you’ll have to wait for the US mail to deliver it, which will suck if your renewal date is near election day.
There are a whole lot more questions about this free ID law as well as the ID voting requirements. The ultimate consequences will not be known until the first part comes into effect on Friday. That said, I would suggest that anyone who doesn’t have a state issued ID now, and wants to vote take advantage of the free ID system asap. There’s no telling what regulatory changes will take place between now and January. The sooner you have your ID in order, the easier it will be to ensure you can vote in 2012.