In 2011, as part of a nationwide push for new restrictions on voting, Tennessee enacted one of the most stringent voter photo ID requirements in the country. In response to criticism that it would disenfranchise voters, state lawmakers agreed to issue free photo ID cards to make sure eligible voters aren’t wrongfully denied the vote. But a Facing South analysis shows that, less than four months from Election Day, Tennessee’s photo ID program is reaching only a fraction of those who likely need it. The Tennessee law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2012, prohibits voters from casting a ballot unless they show a photo ID at the polls, with a few exceptions, such as for those who are hospitalized. Student IDs don’t count, and neither do locally-issued IDs like library cards, although handgun carry permits do. Critics argued the bill posed an especially big problem for the elderly: A unique Tennessee law allows residents over 60 to get driver’s licenses without a picture. According to state records, more than 230,000 Tennessee seniors have such licenses — 126,000 of whom are registered to vote — meaning they wouldn’t be able to vote with those IDs.
The total number of eligible Tennesse citizens without photo IDs is likely much higher. Voting rights groups like the Brennan Center estimate that up to 10 percent of eligible voters nationally lack photo ID cards. With nearly 3.9 million registered voters, that would translate to more than 380,000 citizens without the needed photo ID in Tennessee. But a Facing South public information request to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security revealed that only a fraction of the voters who likely need photo ID cards to vote are getting them.