High Court: Library Cards Valid 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.

Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins said he is “pleased” that the court will hear the appeal and that the state will abide by the Supreme Court order.

“We have advised the Shelby County 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.

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.

And the Appeals Court issued a court order requiring the state to immediately accept the library cards as valid voter identification. Instead, state officials filed an appeal and ordered the Shelby County Election Commission to continue giving voters who presented a photo library card as ID a provisional ballot.

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 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.’”