VOL. 127 | NO. 156 | Friday, August 10, 2012
Judge Hints at Path of Voter ID Challenge
By Bill Dries
The Nashville federal court judge who turned down the city of Memphis’ second request to use photo library cards as voter identification said the city’s legal theories in the opening rounds of what became a larger case this week were “not a model of clarity.”
But Judge Aleta Trauger was quick to add that the issues in the case filed by the city and two Memphians who tried to vote with the library cards involve “their fundamental right to vote.”
Trauger made the points in a 19-page memorandum she filed the day after the Aug. 2 elections.
The city of Memphis is now mounting a direct challenge to the state’s voter photo identification law claiming the law adds “a qualification for the right to vote” beyond what is required in the Tennessee Constitution.
The city sought an injunction twice before the Aug. 2 election day to require Shelby County election officials to include the photo library cards as legal voter identification under the 2011 state law mandating certain types of photo identification in order to vote in Tennessee. The first time, Nashville federal Judge Kevin H. Sharp rejected the injunction request. Trauger rejected the same request and detailed her reasons in writing later.
Trauger wrote that as the Tennessee Legislature debated the bill that later became law, it rejected attempts to add ID issued by local governments. That was clear, she noted, after adding: “The legislative history of the statute is muddled; the parties admit that the 2011 floor debates on the (law) provide little insight into the legislature’s intent.”
The legislature’s intent will almost certainly be challenged again in the amendment to the lawsuit. Only this time, the city is likely to argue the legislature’s intent was to limit the right to vote.
Trauger’s memorandum also raises the possibility that the city of Memphis might be dismissed as a plaintiff. Attorneys for state officials named as defendants in the lawsuit are seeking the dismissal and attorneys for the city didn’t initially address the argument. Even if the city was dismissed, the two other plaintiffs, Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell would remain. Each tried to vote in Shelby County during the early voting period with a photo library card and each voted with a provisional ballot.
Attorneys for the city filed the motion changing the direction of the lawsuit Tuesday, Aug. 7, in Nashville Federal Court, seeking to amend the city’s original lawsuit.
The city, by then, had added Bell, a senior citizen who does not have a photo driver’s license, as the other plaintiff.
“Due to her age and limited income it is very difficult for plaintiff Bell to get transportation and very difficult for her to make more than one trip,” the new filing by the city contends.
Bell presented her photo library card during early voting, was told it was not valid identification to vote under state law and was given a provisional ballot to mark her choices in the elections.
The section of the Tennessee Constitution at the center of the city’s new court claim sets four basic requirements to vote, including being at least 18 years old, a resident of the state and of the U.S., and being registered to vote in the county where the election in question is being held.
“All such requirements shall be equal and uniform across the state and there shall be no other qualification attached to the right of suffrage,” reads Article 4, Section 1 of the Constitution. “The General Assembly shall have power to enact laws requiring voters to vote in the election precincts in which they may reside and laws to secure the freedom of elections and the purity of the ballot box.”