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VOL. 127 | NO. 213 | Wednesday, October 31, 2012

City Sends Cease and Desist Letter in Voter ID Case

By Bill Dries

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As national political pundits talked Tuesday, Oct. 30, about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Nov. 6 elections, a different kind of tempest raged between Memphis and Nashville over the state’s photo voter ID law.


Memphis is the eye of the legal storm that is bound for the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Less than 2,000 Memphians have the photo library cards issued by the city of Memphis starting in July.

But whether they are valid ID in order to vote in the Nov. 6 elections is causing some confusion in the wake of an Appeals Court ruling last week. The court ruled they are but instructions from the state to the Shelby County Election Commission after the ruling is no change in how those voters are treated. The ruling came as the early voting period in advance of the Nov. 6 Election Day was already under way. The early voting period runs through Thursday.

As the Supreme Court weighed granting an appeal to the state Tuesday and when to hear the appeal, the city of Memphis had taken a second legal route. Attorneys for the city sent a cease and desist letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper demanding that his office instruct state election officials to tell local election commissioners they must accept photo library cards as valid identification to vote early.

The letter, released by the city Monday, Oct. 29, came the same day the city filed a response opposing the state’s effort to stay a Tennessee Appeals Court order last week the ruling upheld the state’s 2011 voter photo ID law and ruled that the city-issued library cards are valid identification under that law.

The state is appealing the decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court and contends its appeal amounts to a stay of the decision until the higher court rules on whether there will be an appeal.

The cease and desist letter, drafted by Nashville attorney George E. Barrett for the city, demands “that the state immediately cease and desist its unlawful refusal to accept Memphis photo library cards as acceptable proof of identity for voting.”

The Appeals Court ruling was accompanied by a court order that told state officials to instruct the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the photo library cards from early voters. Instead, state elections officials told the election commission to allow voters presenting the library cards to cast provisional ballots which is what poll workers were doing before the ruling.

The city contends in its letter to Cooper that that is “in defiance” of the court order.

“The state’s actions have already led to confusion among Memphis early voters, many of whom, including a Memphis city judge, have already attempted to vote with their photo library cards, only to be refused by poll workers,” reads the letter, which gave Cooper until the end of the business day Monday to respond.

In the Supreme Court filing, the city of Memphis argued that state law on photo voter ID and what is acceptable identification to vote have already been settled. The city argues there is no stay of the Appeals Court order and that it has to be complied with immediately.

“Given the balance of equities in this case, and danger of Memphis residents being disenfranchised if a stay is maintained through Nov. 6,” Barrett wrote in the city’s behalf, “the context here weigh strongly in favor of the court exercising its authority.”

The city’s Supreme Court filing includes an email from Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers to Deputy City Attorney Regina Newman.

“We are communicating to the early voting sites that the Memphis Library Card is now an acceptable photo ID,” Meyers wrote the day of the Appeals ruling. “We will also add that fact to our election day training.”

At press time Tuesday, the Supreme Court had not yet scheduled a hearing on the matter.

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