NASHVILLE — Tennesseans would have to show a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID under legislation now headed to the Senate floor.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee passed the bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, along partisan lines on a 6-3 vote.
Ketron said the bill is needed to combat voter fraud, but Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, said the proposal amounts to "voter intimidation."
Similar legislation has previously passed the Senate but failed in the House. However, House Republicans think that, given their 64-34 majority over Democrats, the legislation will pass this year. The chamber also has an independent who often votes with Republicans.
Ketron's bill says voters would have to present a photo ID such as a driver's license, hunting license or passport in order to vote. Nine states, including Georgia, have similar laws, Ketron said.
Currently, Tennessee voters can present a voter registration card or a Social Security card, neither of which has a photo.
Under the proposal, those without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot but would have to present a photo ID within two days. The bill exempts people in nursing homes and those who vote absentee.
Ketron said the bill's aim is to "protect the purity of the ballot box." He said it originated in the special election of Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, in 2006. The results of that election were ultimately rejected by senators because of fraud, including instances in which ballots from felons and dead voters were cast.
"Some people say this [bill] disenfranchises voters; I disagree," Ketron said. "When a dead person votes or a convicted felon votes, it disenfranchises some other person who did it legally."
He said he was not accusing Ford of having orchestrated problems that marred the 2006 special election. She was later elected in another election.
But Harper questioned the bill's purpose.
"I'd have to say that some of my constituents think this is voter intimidation," she said, and contended that provisional ballots are a "farce."
Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville, questioned whether there is some indication "there are a lot of people voting who shouldn't be voting."
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said about 12,000 felons were removed from Tennessee voting rolls in 2009. Investigation showed several hundred had voted despite being ineligible.
Dick Williams of Common Cause, a watchdog group, said he worries that, even if there are as many as 100 felons who have tried to vote, there are "probably more than 100 who would be intimidated enough to discourage them from voting. I think it's just a matter of whether you're solving a real issue."
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...