The Plot Thickens, as State Election Officials Resist Order to Honor Library Cards

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State Election Coordinator Mark Goins
  • State Election Coordinator Mark Goins
Whatever the final disposition of the library-card controversy in Memphis, it has so far affected a very small percentage of those voting locally, according to Shelby County Election Commission chairman Robert Meyers, who says that only 19 provisional ballots have so far been issued out of more than 151,000 persons voting early in Shelby County.

And Meyers does not believe that all 19 of those cases involved voters arriving at polling places armed with library cards to satisfy requirements of the state’s Photo-ID law.

Controversial from the time of its passage in the Republican-dominated 2011 session of the Tennessee General Assembly, the law is now the subject of fresh contention. A decision by a state appellate Thursday had apparently reversed an earlier ruling in Nashville Chancery Court which upheld state election officials’ judgment that the library cards were an invalid credential for voting purposes.

But state Election Coordinator Mark Goins wasted no time in instructing the Shelby County Election Commission that, pending resolution of a fresh appeal by his office to the state Supreme Court, local polling officials should continue, as they had been doing, to give provisional ballots to persons presenting library cards.

Goins has contended that the pending appeal constitutes a de facto stay.

The Coordinator's directive, which had been sent to SCEC administrator Rich Holden as well as to Meyers and the other four Commission members, was immediately transmitted by Holden to all local polling officials. This occurred, Meyers said, little more than an hour after he had sent an email to the same officials instructing them to comply with the findings of the appellate court.

The Goins directive in effect canceled out his own email, Meyers said. Asked how many people might have voted in the interim after presenting library cards, Meyer said, “I doubt there was enough time for many, if any, to have done so. One thing came very quickly on the heels of the other.”

Asked if he regarded himself as merely “following orders,” Meyers at first responded firmly, “No sir,” as if in recognition that in modern times that idiom has taken on an unfavorable connotation. But after a pause, he acknowledged, “I was following instructions. Yes.”

Meyers, a lawyer, said he had not fully analyzed the situation from a legal point of view.
Meanwhile, the City of Memphis has filed a brief with the state Supeme Court contesting Goins’ appeal on the basis that the Memphis library cards, the result of an initiative by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, had been adjudged by the state Appeals Court to be in compliance with the state Photo-ID law. In the same ruling, the Appeals Court had ruled the law to be valid.

Also, on Monday, the City of Memphis dispatched a letter to state Attorney General Robert Cooper demanding that he enjoin Goins and other officials that “the state immediately cease and desist its unlawful refusal to accept Memphis photo library cards as acceptable proof of identity for voting.”

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