With the Supreme Court recently issuing a flurry of orders and stays on the implementation of certain states’ voter ID laws—allowing some to be in effect for the 2014 midterms, but blocking another—there has been no shortage of attention on voting rights developments. While states, such as Texas and North Carolina, are often criticized for having some of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, little scrutiny has been placed on another state’s voter ID requirement that is arguably just as burdensome and theoretically more primed for a constitutional challenge: Tennessee. Despite receiving scant attention from the national media, a recently released study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that Tennessee’s three-year old voter ID law has deterred voter turnout, notably among younger voters. According to U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), the report proves that the state’s voter ID law unfairly suppresses Tennessee residents’ voting rights.
The GAO study found that turnout among eligible and registered voters declined between 2008 and 2012 by an estimated 2.2 to 3.2 percent more than in states that did not make their voter ID laws stricter. In other words, there were roughly 88,000 Tennesseans who likely would have voted if the new law had not been in place. These findings appear to confirm why analysts consistently classify Tennessee’s voter ID law as “strict.”
Indeed, the state’s voter ID requirement has long been included on lists of the most stringent voter ID laws in the country, due in no small part to the fact that it expressly excludes student IDs from the list of acceptable forms of voter ID, yet allows voters to gain access to the polls by showing their gun permit. Despite attempts to pass legislation that would allow students to use their school ID for voting purposes (a practice followed by a majority of states with voter ID laws), the Tennessee Senate’s State and Local Committee voted along party lines to reject such a bill.