College students in Tennessee could be barred from casting a ballot in upcoming elections under the state’s new voter ID law. That is, unless they own a gun.
Last week, the Tennessee Senate State & Local Government Committee rejected a bill that would have allowed valid photo IDs issued by any public institution of higher education to be used at the polls. The vote on Tuesday was 7-2, with all Republicans opposing and both Democrats voting in favor.
No Republicans on the committee offered testimony against the bill, other than Sen. Mark Norris (R) who noted that the courts had upheld the voter ID law in its current form and said he did “not think it was a good idea” to change it to include university IDs. Currently there are only six acceptable forms of identification that voters may use at the polls to satisfy Tennessee’s new voter ID law: a driver’s license, a passport, a state government-issued photo ID, a federal government-issued photo ID, a military photo ID, and a handgun carry permit.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jim Kyle (D), argued in his testimony that college students are among the least likely Tennesseans to have a driver’s license, the most common form of photo ID that voters use at the polls. He also noted that the majority of states allow college students to use their university IDs at the ballot box. “Passage of this bill would point out to the courts that the purpose is voter identification and not voter suppression,” Kyle contended in vain.
Critics have charged that voter ID laws — which already threaten to disenfranchise millions of voters around the country — are even more discriminatory when they allow people to use firearm permits, but block them from using student IDs. Gun owners skew Republican, after all, while students are more likely to lean liberal.
Graphic by Adam Peck.