Three trips. More than 120 miles. Three hours with her daughter in the car. That is what it took for Olean Blount to get the right identification card to cast her ballot. “I don’t know why I needed it,” she said. “Everybody around here knows me.” The 92-year-old woman from Westport, a crossroads 11 miles southeast of Huntingdon in Carroll County, says she spent the better part of two days trying to get a picture ID in time for the March presidential primary. In the end, she could be counted among the more than 21,000 people who have received picture IDs from the state of Tennessee over the past year, a card that will allow her to vote. But as her experience illustrates, even when the cards are issued for free, they are anything but costless.
Large rural pockets of Tennessee do not have offices where people can obtain photo IDs from the state, a recent study says, despite officials’ pledges to keep the state’s new ID requirement from turning away legitimate voters. That means the new law affects rural white voters as well as minorities, contradicting a common assumption made by members of both major political parties.
For some, particularly the poor and elderly, time and distance could be bigger deterrents than the cost of the ID cards themselves. Even when fees are waived, getting the cards can mean long rides to driver service centers in neighboring counties, often at the inconvenience of friends and relatives. The hurdles can be cleared. According to records maintained by the Tennessee Department of Safety, at least 3,300 people have crossed county lines to obtain a photo ID card from the state since July 1, 2011. But there’s no way to count those who weren’t as determined as Blount and gave up on the prospect of voting.