Student IDs Unacceptable As Voter Identification Under New Tennessee Law

Tennessee’s new voter identification law, which goes into effect in 2012 after it was passed by Republicans and signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam (R) this year, will require prospective voters to show one of five forms of identification at the polls: a Tennessee driver’s license, valid photo ID, a passport, an employee photo ID, or a military photo ID.

Noticeably absent from that list, however, is a student identification card from any of Tennessee’s colleges or universities, which had been included as an acceptable form in earlier drafts of the legislation. Despite the fact that many states with voter ID laws accept student IDs as valid forms of identification, state Sen. Bill Ketron (R) — the law’s original sponsor — said student IDs were intentionally omitted from Tennessee’s version of the law because they are “easy to manipulate,” according to the Daily Helmsman, the student newspaper at the University of Memphis:

Senator Bill Ketron, who sponsored the law, said it was passed to prevent voter fraud, and student IDs were excluded as an acceptable form of identification because they are easy to manipulate.

“Well, between the public and the private universities, we felt there probably was not enough control on the issuance of those IDs as there would be in the state,” he said. “In the bill, you can even have an expired driver’s license or passport to vote. There are 14 or 15 articles you could use with a photo.”

There are also students who attend college who are underage and illegal immigrants, Ketron said.

Republicans across the country continue to assert that voter ID laws are aimed at protecting the integrity of elections, not at disenfranchising subgroups of voters that tend to favor the Democratic Party. But while evidence of rampant voter fraud that could be prevented by such laws is lacking, evidence that the laws primarily target demographics that traditionally vote Democrat continues to mount. Such laws predominately effect low-income Americans and minorities, both traditional Democratic constituencies. Now, Tennessee has explicitly drawn a form of ID issued to all of the state’s college students — another traditional bloc of Democratic voters — out of the law.

Republicans in Maine also sought to crack down on student voter fraud, only to find out from a two-month investigation that student voter fraud didn’t exist. Meanwhile, voter registration isn’t available for underage students or undocumented immigrants, making Ketron’s second justification for such an exception completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Tennessee already saw evidence that its law would make it harder for some of its residents to vote last month, when 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper was originally denied a voter ID in Chattanooga because she couldn’t produce a marriage certificate. That experience, Cooper said, was worse than under Jim Crow laws, and prompted a statewide review of the ID process. Unfortunately, it seems Tennessee Republicans have remained intent on making it harder to vote for as many of its residents as possible.