Court's Ruling for Memphis Library Cards Gets Mixed Reaction Statewide



Memphis Mayor A C Wharton released a statement Thursday expressing gratitude that the state Court of Appeals had found for the city in its appeal of a prior Davidson County Chancery Court ruling that had invalidated city library cards as proper IDs for voting under state law.

"It was our intent to make voting easier, not more difficult," Wharton said. "In so doing, we knew that we were fighting this battle not just for the citizens of Memphis, but for every city and community across Tennessee where you have seniors, the disabled, and people in general in need of greater access and flexibility in obtaining a valid ID for voting."

The court issued an unequivocally firm directive in support of its decision:

"In light of the fact that the period of early voting for the November 6 election is currently underway, Defendants (Secretary of State Tre) Hargett and (State Election Coordinator Mark) Goins are hereby ordered to immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the City of Memphis Public Library as acceptable 'evidence of identification' as provided at Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(2)(A)."

And it wasn’t just in Memphis where waves were made by Thursday’s appellate-court decision affirming Memphians’ rights to use library-issued photo IDs for voting.

Mary Mancini of Nashville, director of Tennessee Citizen Action, an avowedly progressive lobbying and watchdog group, had this to say:

"This is good news! The ruling clearly states that city-issued library cards lawfully fulfill the requirements of the photo ID to vote. It should send a clear message to the Tennessee State Legislature that their attempts last session to limit allowable IDs to only a handful was both restrictive and excessive.

Citizen Action looks forward to working with the Tennessee General Assembly next session to amend the Photo ID to Vote law to allow other Metro and city-issued photo IDs to fulfill the requirements of the law thereby removing additional barriers to the ballot box making it much easier for more hardworking Tennesseans to vote."

Mancini’s response paralleled those of most Democrats across the state.

Republicans, especially conservative ones, felt differently. Here’s this from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who sets the pace for his party’s right wing:

"While allowing library cards clearly violates the legislative intent of this law, the court rightly affirmed the law's constitutionality. Just yesterday, we saw Democrat Party voter fraud efforts make national news in Virginia, as the son of a U.S. Congressman was caught on tape explaining how to commit fraud at the ballot box. This is exactly the type of illegal behavior our law will stop. Tennessee's voter ID law is necessary, proper and completely constitutional. This has been made plain by the courts and remains undisputed."

And state Representative Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville), a principal author of the state’s Photo-ID legislation, expressed her vexation with the ruling:

"Not only has the Court gone beyond the clear intent of the law by allowing library cards, it has also created an exception for the city of Memphis that falls below the standard for the rest of Tennessee. This is the definition of 'legislating from the bench' and, frankly, is unacceptable."

In a late-afternoon conference call, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said the state would file an appeal with the state Supreme Court asking that Thursday’s ruling legitimizing library cards as a voting credential be overturned.

But Hargett found a silver lining in the court’s ruling that the Photo-ID law itself was constitutional, “They’ve called it a burden on voting and once again the judiciary has said it’s not.”

In upholding the law itself, the Court decision said, "We note that the Voter Photo ID Act has created much controversy and aroused intense feelings among both its supporters and its detractors. The courts do not question the General Assembly's motives or concern themselves with the General Assembly's policy judgments.”

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