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VOL. 35 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 9, 2011




Durbin: Tenn. voter ID law hampers ballot access

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NASHVILLE (AP) — U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jim Cooper are urging Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to take steps to ensure ballot access under Tennessee's new law requiring a photo ID to vote.

Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, is holding hearings on new voter ID laws in the Senate. He joined Cooper in his Nashville district on Monday to discuss the Tennessee requirements with reporters. The senator has also sent a letter to Haslam about the issue.

"It is curious that the people most affected by this — who would be those in lower income categories, minorities and the elderly — tend to vote more Democratic," Durbin said. "And we think in many instances in states that have done this, they will be discouraging those populations from registering and voting."

Cooper said he recently went with his 92-year-old mother to get a government-issued ID.

"She's 92, she hasn't driven in eight or 10 years, and she didn't have one," Cooper said. "So I took her by and we got her a special non-driver driver's license, so she's able to vote now.

"This is a minefield for the uninitiated," he said. "And you shouldn't have to go through all this red tape to vote."

The state estimates that more than 126,000 registered voters in Tennessee could be affected by the new law because their government-issued IDs don't have pictures on them.

But State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said that polling places will accept expired driver's licenses as well as a large number of other federal- or state-issued photo IDs, ranging from Veterans Administration cards to handgun carry permits.

One notable exception is student IDs, which lawmakers found they were too easy to fake, Goins said.

Goins said the Secretary of State's office is working with groups like the AARP and the Farm Bureau to inform voters about the changes in the law.

"We recognize that there's 126,000 people out that need to get the word, and we're going to keep on working on getting the word to them," he said.

A Haslam spokesman said Durbin's letter had not yet been received by the governor's office, and questions were deferred to the Safety Department, which issues driver's licenses.

Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said the agency began offering photo IDs specifically for voting purposes on July 1, and that 207 had been issued through Aug. 31.

Donnals said the department has posted information on its website about which forms of ID will be accepted at polling places, and has provided each county's election commission the names of registered voters who don't have photos on their licenses.

Voters who need a photo ID to cast a ballot will also be placed in the "express service" category at driver service centers to help cut down on wait times, she said.

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