‘Not familiar with Voting Rights Act,’ says Tennessee official
Getting a driver’s license in Tennessee is a test of skill and endurance, but I’m not talking about the road test or written exam, I’m talking about the crazy long lines.
On Friday, I joined 40 people in an outdoor line at 6340 Summer Ave about 12:30 p.m. We huddled together outside of the service center for nearly two hours, standing one-behind the other in 90-plus degree temperatures and punishing humidity. There were no chairs, no water and no restroom breaks. As I steamed, my hair gallantly fought off frizz.
The security guard called four to five customers at a time inside, where we then stood in a second line for 45 additional minutes. It was then we received a customer number and the official wait began. (The Tennessee Department of Public Safety does not officially begin tracking its customer wait time until patrons receive this service ticket. Up to that point, we were just there visiting and hanging out.)
At the information desk, customers had the first opportunity to talk to an employee who could answer questions and review supporting documents including birth certificates, social security cards, proof of residency, etc. Several of my fellow line companions were sent home because their documents failed to meet state standards.
Imagine waiting in a line for three hours, only to walk away empty handed. Our hearts go out to them. Hopefully, they found the nerve to try again and kinder temperatures to wait around in.
Across the nation, making jokes about the long lines at the driver’s license service centers is a part of Americana. In Tennessee, this spectator sport has taken a sinister turn as a result of the General Assembly-tightened voter ID laws. Wanna-be voters in 2012 will need a driver’s license or a government approved photo ID. That means you have to stand in line here to get to the polls on Election Day. That’s no joking matter.
Studies indicate about 10 percent of the population nationally lack these credentials, and many of them are either low-income, elderly or students. When that wait time stretches to four hours, – two of it spent standing still, outdoors, in the scorching sun – that’s asking a lot. In fact, one might even argue that asking people to stand in the hot sun for two hours is just as much a deterrent as a poll tax might be.
What’s disturbing is how widely the line lengths vary in Tennessee. (The correlation between an area’s racial makeup and the length of one’s wait also is worrisome.) In Chattanooga, the average wait time at the Cherokee Boulevard location is less than 19 minutes for services. The average wait time statewide is between 45 and 48 minutes, according to Driver Services Director Michael Hogan. (My wait time, in contrast, was just over 4 hours. That includes my time standing outside the building – time that the state does not include in its wait time calculations.)
Full Article: Will long lines sink new voter ID law?.