Goins did his best to dispute complaints that the law is aimed, not at combating nonexistent voter impersonation at the polls, but at disenfranchising Democrats. To the contrary, Goins said, his office is doing such a great job of alerting voters to the new requirements that he actually thinks election turnouts will go up.
“We’re educating the voter by every means possible,” Goins told the committee. “The overriding benefit that was overlooked even by me when this bill was going through is that we will have a better educated voting public, and I think it will increase the turnout for the 2012 election.”
He went on to say that he’s “more concerned about misinformation and fear of disenfranchisement of voters” spread by the law’s opponents “than I am of the law.”
“People have to understand that misinformation can disenfranchise folks as well,” Goins said.
Before Goins testified, representatives of the mentally ill and the blind complained about the extra burdens that the law places on their constituencies. Many of them are poor and don’t have any way to go to Safety Department offices for photo IDs if they don’t have them already. They asked for some kind of exemption from the law.
Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want a photo ID. “They make you proud,” he said.
Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, said there are 675,337 voting age Tennesseans who either have no driver's license or have a license that does not carry their photo, and one of them is his 94-year-old mother. Republicans pointed out that under the law, Herron’s mother, as an elderly citizen, could vote by absentee ballot if she doesn’t want to wait in line two or three hours in her wheelchair for a photo ID. But Herron said she shouldn’t have to vote absentee.
“She likes to go and vote in person,” Herron said. “She’s does it there for some 70 years or close to it, and that’s what she intends. For the record, this makes it more difficult.”
A coalition of liberals—including the NAACP, the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, and the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition—launched a petition drive against the law and held a press conference today as well.
Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, said his administration is “committed to make it as easy as possible” to get photo ID.
“I understand the concern,” he told reporters. “Can I absolutely guarantee there will be no lines anywhere and you’ll walk right in? No, I can’t. But we’re doing everything we can from our standpoint.”