City Voter ID Suit Alleges Voter Turned Away Twice

By Bill Dries

The city of Memphis wants a Nashville federal judge to order the state to accept photo library cards issued by the city since last month as a valid form of voting identification.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday, July 24, was expected.

City Attorney Herman Morris wrote a 33-page legal opinion in January making the city’s case that the new library cards were acceptable under the state law requiring photo ID to vote, which the Tennessee Legislature passed in 2011.

With Tuesday’s filing, the city is seeking an injunction “ordering the defendants to issue instructions to the Memphis Election Commission to accept such library cards as a means of identification for the purpose of voting in elections.”

Without such instructions, the city claims the state is violating the U.S. Constitution, specifically the equal protection clause.

At a Wednesday, July 25, hearing, Judge Kevin Sharp denied the city's motion for a temporary injunction to take effect immediately. She will hear motions and filings from both sides in the lawsuit as she moves toward a decision on the larger issues.

The city’s plaintiff is Daphne Turner-Golden, a Memphis voter who is one of 990 people the city estimates have been issued the photo library cards since June.

Turner-Golden, according to the verified complaint filed with the lawsuit, has been a voter for 30 years and the library card is “her only form of photo identification.”

She went to Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Monday, July 23, during the ongoing early voting period in advance of the Aug. 2 election day and was turned away without being offered a provisional ballot.

State and local election officials said before early voting began that any voter presenting a photo library card would be offered a provisional ballot, which means they would have two days after that to present other identification the state considers valid. Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins specifically said the photo library card would not be accepted as valid identification to vote.

Turner-Golden claims election officials at the church didn’t offer her a provisional ballot.

She then went to Greater Lewis Street Baptist Church, another of the 21 early voting sites in Shelby County. She showed her library card and was again refused a ballot.

“The election official did finally give her a provisional ballot, after first discouraging her from casting a provisional ballot,” reads the verified complaint filed in Nashville.

In addition to Morris and Assistant City Attorney Regina Morrison Newman, the city and Turner-Golden are represented in the court action by the law firm Barrett Johnston LLC of Nashville.