Supreme Court Orders Photo Library Cards Accepted At Polls

By Bill Dries

Photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis are valid identification for voting and must be accepted by the Shelby County Election Commission.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Thursday, Nov. 1, lifted a stay on an earlier Tennessee Appeals Court ruling and ordered state election officials to tell the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the library cards at the polls.

The stay was ordered lifted on the last day of the early voting period and the action would also apply to the Nov. 6 election day.

The Supreme Court ruling came as the court agreed to hear an appeal of the larger issues in the Appeals Court ruling. Briefs are still to be filed by both sides in that appeal and no date has been set by the court to hear the appeal which makes it unlikely an appeal would be heard much less decided before Tuesday’s election day.

The appeals court held that the 2011 state law requiring photo identification to vote in Tennessee is constitutional. It also ruled that the photo library cards issued by the city since July are among the forms of valid identification under terms of the state law.

In Thursday’s order granting the appeal, the Supreme Court noted that normally granting such an appeal would leave the stay in place.

“However, the right to vote has profound constitutional significance,” the order reads. “In light of the impending general election on Nov. 6, 2012, the court has determined that the stay should be lifted for the limited purpose of ordering the defendants (Tennessee Secretary of State) Tre Hargett and (Tennessee Elections Coordinator) Mark Goins to immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept, for the Nov. 6, 2012 general election and until otherwise ordered by this court, the photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis Public Library as acceptable ‘evidence of identification.’”

Goins said he is "pleased" with the court's decision to hear the appeal. He also said he has ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the photo library cards as valid voter ID.

"We have advised the Shelby Election Commission to accept the city-issued library cards from Memphis for the Nov. 6 election in Shelby County," Goins said in a written statement. "For 94 out of 95 Tennessee counties, today’s order from the court will have no impact: State- or federally-issued photo IDs are the only forms of identification that will be accepted. In Shelby County only, the city-issued library photo ID cards will also be accepted in accordance with the court’s directive.”

The new instructions are a change from the instructions Goins issued after the Appeals Court ruling and order last week. Then Goins said election officials were to continue marking ballots cast by voters using a library card as provisional ballots.