The new, improved Gov. Bill Haslam — willing to weigh in on issues — should use his new leadership to urge solutions to what is a messed-up voter photo ID law. He’s dropping hints that he might intervene, saying the state’s driver’s license stations were not ready for the lines of voters seeking a photo ID so they can vote. Haslam is not asking lawmakers to postpone the law. But he used an interesting little word: “yet.”
“We haven’t made that recommendation to them yet,” Haslam said. The driver’s license centers need to be “a little more customer friendly,” the governor told reporters, and “they’re not where they need to be yet.” Haslam could do this and offer political cover to both parties. He could, for example, ask that the legislature push back the start date by a year to make more improvements to reduce driver’s license station wait times.
He could float an amended bill, allowing college students to use their student IDs at the polls and exempt seniors. He could push lawmakers to grandfather all existing registered voters in, and begin requiring a photo on voter registration cards from here on out. He could create a new system in which you get a new registration card with a picture taken at the time you go vote. That would phase in a new system nicely over time. Even some supporters concede that, as is, this has the potential to be a complete mess on Election Day.
The voter photo ID bill was passed by Republican lawmakers last session, saying it would prevent widespread voter fraud. But Democrats counter that there is no widespread voter fraud. The bill, they say, is aimed at disenfranchising voters, like students and the poor. The law is especially difficult on seniors.
Tennessee law says that once you turn 60, you no longer are required to have a picture on your driver’s license. Even though they can vote absentee, many older voters want to go to the polls. To do that, they must obtain an official state photo ID, and the only places those are available are at driver’s license stations.
Despite the Department of Safety’s efforts to ease lines and hours, there are still too many horror stories. Lillian Gardner tried to obtain a photo ID for her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease. After going back twice with different documents each time, she finally gave up and renewed his driver’s license — even though he had to give up driving.