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State Appeals Ruling That Memphis Library Cards Can Be Used To Vote


Secretary of State Tre Hargett was displeased by a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision yesterday that said Memphians can vote with library-issued photo IDs. He appealed that decision to the Tennessee Supreme Court today.

The Court of Appeals decision was unusual because the court didn’t just issue an opinion, it also ordered Hargett to “immediately advise the Shelby County Election Commission to accept photo library cards issued by the City of Memphis Public Library.”

Hargett’s appeal argues that his act of simply filing appeal papers stays that order until the Tennessee Supreme Court weighs in. Communications Director for the state’s courts Michele Wojciechowski said whether or not Hargett’s filing actually stays the Court of Appeals decision is a matter of law for Tennessee’s Supreme Court to decide.

For now, Hargett is advising the Shelby County Election Commission 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.”

According to the Brennan Center For Justice, Tennessee is one of 14 states to pass restrictive voting laws that could impact the November 6 election. A Republican-controlled state legislature passed the law requiring voters show a photo ID at the polls in 2011 and a Republican governor signed it. Memphis Mayor AC Wharton, a Democrat, sued on behalf of two women who tried to vote with library cards in the August election.

"The whole approach by the city was focused on finding options and alternative ways to facilitate the Tennessee voter photo ID [law] so more citizens could satisfy it and cast their vote,” said City of Memphis Attorney Herman Morris, “[The Secretary of State] could very easily have adopted the view of the Court of Appeals which unanimously held the library card was good for voting if their goal was to make sure only truly identified citizens could cast a vote.”

The Secretary of State argues in his appeal that Memphis Public Library cards are not, as the appeals court said, a state-issued ID, “The State did not authorize the City or the Library to issue photographic identification cards solely for the purpose of voting."

The appeal also argues that Memphis does not have standing to sue the state over the voter ID law, “the City is not hurt by any determination of the State Election Coordinator that the Memphis Public Library photo card is not acceptable identification for voting purposes. Moreover, the optional Memphis Public Library photo cards can still be used for their authorized purpose—as an identification card for patrons to check out books.”

Finally, the state’s appeal argues that the two Memphis women named in the lawsuit don’t have legal standing to sue. The state says both women could have obtained valid photo IDs for free and that one of the plaintiffs, Sullistine Bell, is 70 years-old and thus could vote by absentee ballot if she chose “without the necessity of producing a photographic ID at the polling place.”

City Attorney Morris rejects these arguments. Morris maintains that the state is trying to suppress votes, “In opposing this they reveal their other motives."

I love living in Memphis, but I'm not from the city. I grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I spent many hours at a highly tender age listening to NPR as my parents crisscrossed that city in their car, running errands. I don't amuse myself by musing about the purity of destiny, but I have seriously wondered how different my life would be if my parents preferred classic rock instead of Car Talk.
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