Photo library cards the city of Memphis began issuing this summer can be used as valid identification for the Nov. 6 elections.
The Tennessee Appeals Court ruled Thursday, Oct. 25, that city of Memphis photo library cards are a valid form of state issued identification for voting under terms of a 2011 Tennessee that requires photo identification in order to vote.
The court accompanied the ruling with a one-page order that directs Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins “to immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis Public Library as acceptable evidence of identification” under the 2011 state law.
Shelby County Election Commissioners had been notified of the ruling Thursday afternoon, according to Election Commissioner George Monger, and were preparing to comply immediately based on instructions from Hargett and Goins.
Early voters could present a photo library card as valid ID to vote, the commission decided based on word from Nashville, but those voter would be given a provisional ballot.
Hargett and Goins told The Tennessean newspaper late Thursday they intend to file an appeal Friday with the Tennessee Supreme Court specifically seeking a stay of the Appeals Court order that allows the use of the photo library cards during the ongoing early voting period.
The state is expected to argue complying with the order will mean new instructions for election workers with balloting already underway under a different set of rules.
“Anything that we can do to open wider the doors to the ballot box is indeed a step in the right direction and for the right reason,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., who inaugurated the photo library card program in July and led the legal fight first in Nashville federal court and then in Davidson County Chancery Court. “This is why we take great joy in the court’s ruling.”
Lt. Governor and State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who spearheaded passage of the law, said the library card “clearly violates the legislative intent of this law.”
But the rest of his reaction was to the part of the ruling that upheld the state law.
“Tennessee’s voter ID law is necessary, proper and completely constitutional,” Ramsey said in a written statement. “This has been made plain by the courts and remains undisputed.”
Wharton countered that critics of the city’s policy and program, which has issued 1,908 of the photo library cards since July, were being selective in their reading of the state law.
“What the court did is read the law in its entirety. What those who have opposed the library card have said is it ran afoul of the state’s responsibility to ensure the integrity and purity of the ballot box,” Wharton said at an afternoon press conference in front of City Hall. “But that same law states that it is designed to ensure maximum participation by all citizens. That’s what we were relying on – not to find ways to restrict participation. The policy of the state ought to be how can we get more participation.”
The ruling comes as early voting in advance of the Nov. 6 election day is already underway.
The city’s position went two ways. First, city attorneys challenged the constitutionality of the state law arguing it was an obstacle to voting. The second argument was that if the court upheld the law, it should interpret the law to allow the photo library card as valid for voting purposes.
“Showing a photo ID is not a significant intrusion or burden,” read the appeals court ruling written by Judge Andy D. Bennett, who decided the case along with Judges Richard H. Dinkins and D. Michael Swiney. Bennett cited photo ID requirements to board a plane, enter federal buildings and cash a check in upholding the state law.
“Photographic identification is probably the best way of making sure a voter is the person he or she claims to be,” Bennett added citing past U.S. Supreme Court rulings that the burden in terms of cost for such identification is not substantial.
State case law, he added, “supports finding that the city is a branch, department, agency or entity of this state” under past Tennessee Supreme Court rulings on that specific issue.