Letter Latest Salvo In Dispute Between State And Memphis Over Voter Photo IDs

Oct 29, 2012

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A letter lawyers for the City of Memphis wrote to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper today demands “immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the City of Memphis Public Library.”

The letter is the latest salvo in a dispute between the state and its largest city over a law that requires citizens show a photo ID in order to vote. A Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law in 2011 and a Republican governor signed it. Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, a Democrat, sued on behalf of two women who each tried to vote using a new Memphis Public Library card, which includes a picture, in the August election.

Last week, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld that state law, but reversed an earlier court ruling that the Memphis library-issued photo IDs weren’t acceptable for voting. The appeals court ordered Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett to tell the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the Memphis Public Library photo IDs at their polling stations.

Hargett appealed that ruling to the Tennessee Supreme Court and instructed the Shelby County Election Commission to accept the library cards provisionally until the Tennessee Supreme Court decided whether or not to weigh in. Hargett’s instruction to the election commission goes as follows:

“On the advice of our counsel in the [Tennessee] Attorney General’s office, voters in Shelby County who present Memphis library cards will be allowed to vote with provisional ballots – and those ballots will be marked to indicate the type of ID provided. If the Supreme Court upholds the appellate court’s ruling, those ballots will be counted with no further action needed by the voters. However, if the Supreme Court strikes down that provision, then the voters will still have up to two days after the election to go to their local election commission offices with proper identification in order to have their votes counted.”

Lawyers for the City of Memphis don't think that instruction is good enough. In their letter to the Tennessee Attorney General today they wrote, “unless the State agrees to immediately cease and desist these unlawful actions and comply with the Court of Appeals … we will be forced to pursue all appropriate legal action.” The lawyers also filed a response to Hargett’s appeal with the Tennessee Supreme Court.