Voter registration could require citizenship proof

On March 24, 2009, in News 2009, by Mark Norris

By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer, JacksonSun.com March 24, 2009 NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says his proposal to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in Tennessee is not meant to restrict access to the ballot box. Norris, a Collierville Republican, is sponsoring a measure to require people seeking […]

By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press Writer, JacksonSun.com
March 24, 2009

NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says his proposal to require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in Tennessee is not meant to restrict access to the ballot box.

Norris, a Collierville Republican, is sponsoring a measure to require people seeking to register to vote to prove their citizenship with documents such as driver’s licenses, passports or birth certificates.

He agreed today to delay a vote in the Senate State and Local Government Committee for two weeks so he can work to get members of the panel comfortable with the proposal.

‘‘It’s a balancing act,’’ Norris told the committee. ‘‘We’re not trying to have a chilling effect on registration, but we also don’t want to do anything to encourage fraudulent registration or registration by those who are not U.S. citizens.’’

Current state law requires people to check a box on an application affirming under threat of perjury that they are U.S. citizens. Norris said there’s no way for election officials to challenge that assertion.

Sen. Thelma Harper, a Nashville Democrat, argued the against the proposal.

‘‘If you place all of these requirements, what you’re doing is not chilling it, you’re freezing it.’’

The proposal would hamper voter registration drives at places like supermarkets, churches and colleges, Harper said.

‘‘If we’re doing a voter registration, we’ve got to carry a copying machine to send in copies of the originals, so they can certify this person is who they say we are?’’ she said. ‘‘I think it really inhibits the ability to get people to register to vote.’’

Norris said the bill would allow people to submit their driver’s license number instead of copies of other documents. But he added he understands Harper’s concerns about walk-up registrations.

‘‘It’s not designed to have the chilling effect that you say,’’ Norris said. ‘‘I’m sensitive to it, but citizenship is an important element to your right to vote in this country.’’

Earlier, on a 6-3 vote, the same Senate committee advanced a measure to require voters to present photo identification before they can cast ballots. That measure would need to clear the Senate Finance Committee before it could get a full floor vote.

Companion measures to both bills are awaiting votes in the House Elections Subcommittee.

The only state that currently requires a citizenship check before voting is Arizona. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, similar proposals have surfaced in at least five other states: Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Washington and Virginia.

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On the Net:
Read SB1999 and SB0150 at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov