» By CHRIS COPPEDGE – ccoppedge@my.apsu.edu

The Tennessee Urban Resource Center sponsored a community forum on the subject of the new voter ID law at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 28, at the Clarksville Montgomery County Library.

The forum was meant to educate attendees about the new law which goes into effect Sunday, Jan. 1. The new law states voters are required to show valid state or federal government-issued photographic identification in order to vote at the polls.

In attendance to help explain the law and field questions were Senator Tim Barnes (D), and Montgomery County Administrator of Elections Vicki Koelman. A group of TSU students filmed the forum.

“The bill originally came before the legislature in 2010,” Barnes said. “It went through the Senate with an amendment exempting citizens 65 years of age or older, but was defeated by the House. It passed through both the Senate and House this past year with that amendment removed.”

The new law specifies driver’s licenses, passports, handgun carry permits, military identification cards, IDs issued by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, or any other IDs issued by the state or federal government as acceptable IDs for voters. Unacceptable IDs include college student IDs, city/municipal or county IDs and any other type of ID not issued by the state or federal government.

IDs such as licenses and passports can be expired yet still be valid, as can the other acceptable IDs mentioned. For citizens who cannot travel to a DMV or a Department of Safety office on their own, numerous groups such as Faith Outreach and the local Republican Party have offered to provide transportation.

According to Koelman, those exempt from the law include voters residing in nursing homes, absentee ballot voters who vote by mail, hospitalized voters or those who have a religious objection to being photographed. Koelman specified Mennonites as a group who has that kind of objection.

“If you do not have a valid photo ID, you can get one from the Department of Safety,” Koelman said. “You need to present proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate and two proofs of a Tennessee residency and you still have to be registered to vote in order to get a free photo ID.”

A Q&A session was held after the initial presentation. A question was raised about the possibility of illegal immigrants committing voter fraud, which was deflected by Koelman by reiterating voters have to prove they are a U.S. citizen in order to both vote and get a free photo ID.

Representative Debra Maggert of Hendersonville sponsored the legislation, which will cost millions of dollars for both education about the law and its implementation.

That money will be appropriated out of the general fund of the state’s budget.

Not everyone is happy with this new law. “I can’t think of anything more detrimental to the free exercise of your right to vote than to present a valid photo ID card,” said Representative Joe Pitts (D), who was originally supposed to attend the forum, but had to drop out at the last minute. “The proponents of the bill cited voter fraud as the reason behind the bill. There is no evidence of this crime that would necessitate such a draconian measure.”

Representative Curtis Johnson (R) disagrees, claiming Secretary of State Tre Haggart conducted a review after taking office and found over 13,000 deceased individuals and 2,300 felons had voted in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

“Every Tennessean should have complete confidence in the voting process,” Johnson said. “Our internal polling shows that the vast majority of Tennesseans of all political stripes support this new law.” TAS