Tennessee appeals court upholds state voter ID law

[JURIST] The Tennessee Court of Appeals [official website] rejected [opinion, PDF] a challenge to the state's voter identification law [SB 16, PDF] Thursday while upholding the validity of Memphis public library cards as acceptable forms of voter ID. The state had argued that the Memphis library is not an entity of the state as defined in the law as an approved provider of acceptable forms of photo ID. In examining the intent of the legislature the court ruled that allowing such local government entities to produce voter IDs is consistent with and furthers the goals of the legislation, and ordered that Memphis library cards immediately begin to be accepted at Tennessee polling places. The three-judge panel then upheld the constitutionality of the voter ID law over larger arguments that it represents an undue burden on individual voters under the Tennessee Constitution [text, PDF]:

The legislature has determined, pursuant to its authority to secure the integrity of elections, that requiring photographic identification will advance the state's interest in preventing in-person voter fraud. We agree that the requirement bears a substantial relation to the state's interest. ... Showing a photo ID is not a significant intrusion or burden. ... The photographic identification requirement, in the context of the statutory scheme, serves the State's interest in the integrity of elections in the least intrusive manner possible.
The court also rejected arguments that the ID requirement constitutes an Equal Protection [Cornell LII backgrounder] violation akin to a poll tax, holding that the fees required for documentation to obtain a photo ID are not tied to voting in that such documents, such as a birth certificate, have "independent value separate and apart from voting." Secretary of State Tre Hargett [official website] praised the decision to uphold the law but announced that the state would appeal the library card order [AP report] to the Tennessee Supreme Court [official website], effectively putting the order on hold pending further appeal.

The issue of voting rights [JURIST backgrounder] remains a contentious issue in the US, particularly in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. At least 30 states have passed laws [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls. Earlier this month the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court [official website] issued a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] preventing Pennsylvania's new voter ID law [HB 943 materials] from taking effect before the upcoming election. That same week Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood [official website] announced that his state's voter ID law will not take effect [JURIST report] before the November election. Also this month the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled that South Carolina's new voter ID law [A27, text] does not discriminate against racial minorities [JURIST report], paving the way for the law to take effect next year.

 

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