May 12, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) –People would be deterred from registering to vote if required to show proof of citizenship, say opponents of the proposal that passed the state Senate on Monday.

Lawmakers spent more than two hours debating the measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Dewayne Bunch of Cleveland before approving it 20-12. It is different than the companion bill that passed the House 92-1 last week.

That version would only require prospective voters to check a box to affirm they are citizens.

The Senate version did the same before it was amended by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris to require proof of citizenship, which the Collierville Republican said satisfies election officials who want to see more evidence.

Bunch said the stricter legislation is needed to “protect the integrity of our elections.”

“This is what our citizens want,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

However, opponents said the measure would actually discourage people from registering.

“It hampers people who want to be a part of the system,” said Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville. “I think it’s just a bad piece of legislation. It’s mean-spirited, and I think it’s going to come back and bite some of us who will be back here next year.”

Sen. Doug Jackson said some of the language in the proposal is vague, particularly the part that reads, “the administrator of elections may reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship,” which includes showing a driver’s license or birth certificate.

“My concerns is in the mechanics of this,” said the Dickson Democrat. “This is written in such a way that … registrars are going to be applying different standards in different ways.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would require each county election commission to report the number of applicants not registered due to failure to provide sufficient proof of citizenship.

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