Tennessee photo ID takes spotlight in early voting drive
A Nashville-based group of activists and students concerned about new voter-identification requirements plan for a massive early-voting push, but different rules and concerns led to a divergent MTSU effort.
Operation “Wake Up and Vote early,” known as W.A.V.E, plans for Nashville area college students to vote in mass on Oct. 20.
The movement is the result of meetings held at Nashville’s Spruce Street Baptist Church, headed up by Tennessee Citizen Action, an advocacy group, and includes students from several Nashville campuses, such as Vanderbilt and Fisk universities. The group has plans to reach out to other colleges.
“It’s to get [students] to vote early and to get them to stand in solidarity with students as well as others who are affected by this new photo ID to vote law,” said Mary Mancini, Tennessee Citizen Action’s executive director. “It’s also a way in which students can vote, and we can make a record of them voting, and we can show that, yes, students are absolutely allowed to vote in Tennessee without anything encumbering them, just like every other person who is a resident of Tennessee.”
Mancini said that students with out-of-state identification who may be challenged on their eligibility should be able to present their voter registration card as proof, and they can vote.
State law requires a government-issued photo identification be presented at the polls to vote, such as a driver’s license or other state or federally-issued ID, including a passport or military ID.
In response to this, the Tennessee State Department of Safety and Homeland Security is offering free voter photo identification.
These can be obtained at any Driver Service Center during normal business hours or at selected centers on Saturday, Nov. 3.
For a list of locations, visit https://news.tn.gov/node/9523.
Proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, and two proofs of address are required to receive the identification.
At the heart of W.A.V.E’s activism is apprehension toward the law’s condition that student identification from state universities cannot be presented to vote.
“That’s the only part of the law that is specific about what you cannot use,” Mancini said, explaining that MTSU employees could use their university ID. “So it’s very clear in the law that students are being singled out.”
Out-of-state students at one local university were encouraged not to vote in Tennessee at all.
Vanderbilt strongly encouraged out-of-state students to vote absentee in their home state this year, citing residency requirements in the photo ID law and financial aid considerations.
“It is possible that students using an out-of-state driver’s license or a passport with an out-of-state address may have their residency challenged at the polls,” an email to university students stated. “A change of residency status may jeopardize eligibility for financial assistance that is based upon residence in another state. Students receiving such assistance should review the residency requirements under their out-of-state financial aid or scholarship and grant programs before registering to vote in Tennessee.”
Blake Fontenay, communications director for Tennessee Department of State, said that properly registered students should be able to vote even with an out-of-state ID.
“If there is a student from Illinois, and they are properly registered in Rutherford County, all they have to do is show their Illinois driver’s license, and they should be able to vote with no problem,” Fontenay said.
Fontenay said he could not speak to residential requirements but did say that voting in Tennessee could be interpreted as a residency claim.
“They shouldn’t be registered to vote in two states,” Fontenay said. “So you are in effect saying you are a Tennessee resident. I am not sure how that would affect consideration as an in-state versus out-of-state student.”
Though several MTSU faculty members have attended W.A.V.E meetings, the Oct. 4 meeting marked the first time that there was student representation of the campus.
“This is a great initiative they’re taking,” said Joshua Moore, 21, a senior philosophy major who attended. “The more campuses you get involved, absolutely the better impact you are going to have.”
Moore is a member of MTSU’s American Democracy Project.
ADP director Mary Evins said she would be open to coordinating an event similar to or in conjunction with W.A.V.E. but said the difference between the two counties’ early-voting hours on Oct. 20 complicates efforts.
Davidson early voting runs all day that Saturday, while Rutherford is only in the morning, from 8 a.m. to noon. W.A.V.E chose to go vote collectively specifically that day.
Evins also said her focus is more on registration and turnout than voter identification.
“The majority of our students drive,” Evins said. “And if they did not bring a car here to campus, the majority of them have a driver’s license for when they go home to stay with Mom and Dad, and I just don’t think it’s going to be a real hardship.”
Although Evins said she did not plan to have bus transportation to voting locations, which MTSU has done in the past and W.A.V.E plans to do, MTSU students could be turned out with cooperation of other campus organizations like SGA.
“We could do it here,” Evins said. “If we have several campus organizations that want to partner with us to make it happen.”
– Photo Credit: Taylor Humphrey