Every fraudulent vote cast in an election disenfranchises the citizen who votes legally — regardless of their political affiliation.

By Mark Norris, Special to Viewpoint, CommercialAppeal.com
October 7, 2011

Should it be easier to vote than to buy a six-pack of beer? Some Democrats think so. Or so they say in opposition to Tennessee’s new law that will require voters to produce a photo ID. After reading some of the op-ed columns they’ve written, you’d think Democrats are camera shy.

Requiring photo identification to vote “is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting the integrity and reliability of the electoral process.” These are not my words. These are the words of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, ruling in favor of the constitutionality of an Indiana law similar to the photo ID statute passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year.

It was that ruling, not a vast conspiracy from any political party or conservative group, that led many states like Tennessee to take steps to ensure that those who present themselves at the polls are who they say they are. Most citizens are already prepared for this in the post 9/11 world in which we live. Photo identification is needed for such common activities as mailing a package, cashing a check, boarding a plane or even buying beer at the corner convenience store.

Unfortunately, some Democratic lawmakers are using the new Tennessee law to wage a political battle, and their favorite tactic is to scare senior citizens instead of educating them regarding the truth about the new law. Let’s look at the facts.

Although 126,000 seniors age 60 and over have driver’s licenses that do not include their photos, not all of them will be affected when the voter ID law goes into effect next year. Senior citizens age 65 and older may vote absentee and can simply request an absentee ballot. If a person wants to go to the polls to vote and has held any state or federal government-issued identification in the past, including an expired driver’s license, that ID will be accepted as long as it includes a photo. In addition, elderly and disabled citizens in licensed nursing homes and persons requiring emergency absentee ballots are not affected by the new law.

Opponents who say that photo ID is an obstacle for the poor ignore the fact that voters who are indigent and cannot obtain a photo ID without paying a fee (such as a fee required to obtain a birth certificate used in the photo ID application process) are exempt under the new law. In addition, those with religious objections to photos can vote by signing an affidavit of identity.

The legislation also provides recourse for voters without photo identification to cast a vote through a provisional ballot. The provisional voter has two days after election day to provide the county election commission with a valid photo ID. This safeguard ensures that these voters will have their votes counted after officials verify the photo identification.

Voters in need of a photo ID can get one free of charge at any Tennessee driver’s license center by utilizing the same identification required to obtain a driver’s license.

Making our Tennessee driver’s license centers more customer-friendly may just be one of the unintended benefits of the new law. Bill Gibbons, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, is working diligently to alleviate the problems that for years have caused delays in service at driver’s license centers. Gibbons has said that officials expect applicants seeking photo IDs for voting purposes will be moved to an expedited lane to help reduce wait times.

State and local election officials are also working hard to ensure that voters are educated about the new law. Instead of whining about it, they are taking steps to help ensure that everyone who wants to exercise his or her right to vote as an American citizen has the opportunity to do so.

Finally, critics of voter ID claim that fraud at the polls caused by someone impersonating a voter has never been a problem in Tennessee. What they don’t tell you is that, until this legislation became law, we had no reliable mechanism to catch it.

Democrats who rail against voter protection disingenuously call it partisan voter suppression. But this isn’t about partisanship. It’s about citizenship. The truth is, every fraudulent vote cast disenfranchises the citizen who votes legally — regardless of political party. And that’s the most insidious suppression of all.

Mark Norris of Collierville, a Republican who represents District 32, is majority leader of the Tennessee Senate. He also is chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference.

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