With the recent passage of a state bill that changes what qualifies as valid voter identification, Memphis — and Tennessee — has entered a national conversation on whether such laws are justified or acts of voter intimidation. The bill, which requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls, becomes law on Jan. 1.
Though proponents of the bill have said it will help curb voter fraud, some contend that it’s a measure by Republicans to suppress Democratic votes in 2012 elections. State and local elected officials gathered at the Mt. Olive CME Cathedral Church near Downtown on Sunday afternoon for a forum on the bill, where about 50 attendees from across Memphis posed questions to the representatives.
At the forum, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., called the bill a political tactic reminiscent of Karl Rove, the controversial former Republican political strategist and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
“It’s ‘Rovian’ — Karl Rove-type thinking — that’s purpose is to dissuade Democrats from having the opportunity to vote,” Cohen said. “This is not about fraud, no matter what they say. It’s about stopping minorities, who will be disproportionately impacted, from participating in the elections to re-elect Barack Obama as president in 2012.”
Cohen said students, racial minorities and those of a lower socioeconomic standing — all of whom traditionally vote Democratic — are the ones least likely to possess or be able to afford a driver’s license or passport, two accepted forms of ID under the bill.