As new voter ID laws take effect across the county, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is maintaining his position that asking voters to produce identification before casting their ballot has no racial overtones. Paul told WKU Public Radio that voter ID provisions are needed to combat voter fraud and not doing so is a disservice to those who fought for the right to vote.
"Forty, 50 years ago when people were fighting for the right to vote, there were people beaten with clubs, there were people who fought for the Voting Rights Act, and at that time, African Americans weren't voting and weren't allowed to vote," said the Bowling Green Republican.
More states are enacting voter ID laws since the U.S. Supreme Court in June gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that gave the federal government oversight of states with a history of voter discrimination. Sen. Paul says he hasn't seen any evidence that minorities are facing obstacles in voting. In fact, he says in the last election, African Americans voted at a higher percentage than White Americans in states that were under special provisions of the federal government.
His comments come as he urges the GOP to do more to attract minorities, and as opponents of the Supreme Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act point to various voter ID laws they say are designed to discourage election day turnout in minority communities.
A Republican-led push to use college IDs to vote in Tennessee was held up on the floor of the state Senate Thursday, as a disagreement has broken out between GOP lawmakers over the issue.
The legislation comes from a Rutherford County lawmaker, home to the largest undergraduate student body in the state. And while Senator Bill Ketron refused to accept student IDs when the law was passed two years ago, he’s now had a change of heart.
Senator Stacy Campfield of Knoxville has not.
“You know, I hate to say it, but possibly in my younger days I may have known a person or two who had a falsified college ID,” said Campfield.
Both supporters and opponents of Tennessee’s voter ID law are pointing to newly released statewide data to bolster their positions. Nearly four out of five provisional ballots cast in the Volunteer State last November were tossed out.
The Republican-backed voter ID law was passed in 2011. Supporters say it’s an effort to ensure voter integrity and prevent election fraud. Opponents say it’s an attempt to suppress voting among traditional Democratic constituencies, including the urban poor who sometimes don’t have a government-issued photo ID.
Under the Tennessee law, those who experience trouble at the polls on Election Day are allowed to cast a provisional ballot which will be counted later if election officials determine the person casting the ballot is a legitimate voter. According to the data released this week, a little over 1,600—or 23%--of the more than 7,000 provisional ballots cast in Tennessee last November were ultimately counted.
A Nashville civil rights lawyer told The Tennessean those numbers show some voters were disenfranchised.
It's not just the choice of candidates that is contentious this presidential election in Tennessee. Voting itself, and who gets to do it, has become such a hot issue that federal election monitors are in Memphis and Nashville watching the polls.
A judge in Nashville has held Tennessee's voter identification statute constitutional. The Tennessean reported the ruling by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy. After about three hours of oral arguments Wednesday, McCoy ruled against civil rights attorney George Barrett, who contended the state constitution requires only proof of legal age, residency and registration.
A federal judge in Nashville says he isn't convinced photo IDs issued by the public library in Memphis meet the state standard to vote. But U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp also expressed concern at a Wednesday hearing that poll workers were discouraging people who presented the IDs from voting on provisional ballots.