It is a little over a year until the 2012 elections, and you’re eligible to vote for the first time. Maybe you’ve moved to another county, or maybe you haven’t voted in a while and need to know your precinct. You call your local election office, where someone tells you that you will need a photo ID to vote. You learn that you’ll need several pieces of documentation to prove your identity in order to receive the ID.
If you live in any of the 54 counties — yes, 54! — where there is no drivers license center, you’ll have to travel to a neighboring county to get the ID. Unfortunately, this will be the new norm.
Since coming to the Senate in 2007, each year my fellow Democrats and I have opposed efforts to place barriers between voters and the polling booth. Earlier this year, the Republican majority passed a law requiring photo identification to vote, despite warnings that it would hurt thousands of voters and potentially cost the state millions in federal lawsuits.
Now, news comes from Memphis that people are spending four hours waiting in the West Tennessee heat to get those IDs — and many are turned away for not having enough documentation. There are problems all over the state, with wait times reportedly highest in the state’s urban areas.
Hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans don’t have a valid ID, and many are unable to travel to get one. Seniors, those with disabilities, and military veterans, many of whom have voted for decades, are now in danger of losing their right to vote because there are no facilities in their area to produce eligible photo IDs. Students, meanwhile, were specifically targeted by an amendment that bans university ID cards, meaning students at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities cannot use the government-issued photo ID most easily available to them.
We are setting the table for disaster. Even before the bill passed, the Attorney General warned that a voter photo ID requirement would be unconstitutional and would constitute a modern-day poll tax.
But what’s even worse is the possible disenfranchisement of thousands of eligible Tennessee voters. If voters are waiting four hours for a photo ID, one can only imagine the potential chaos as we move closer to Election Day.