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TN Opinion on Voter ID

TN Opinion on Voter ID

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Federal Court upholds Voter ID
Federal Court upholds Voter ID

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Published by: electionlawcentercom on Feb 24, 2014
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02/24/2014

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE AT GREENEVILLE GREEN PARTY OF TENNESSEE, Plaintiff, v. TRE HARGETT, in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, and MARK GOINS, in his official capacity as Coordinator of Elections for the State of Tennessee, Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )  No: 2:13-cv-224
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This is an action brought by the Green Party of Tennessee (“Green Party”) against the Tennessee Secretary of State and Coordinator of Elections (“defendants”) “for legal and equitable relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Plaintiffs [sic] rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.” [Doc. 1, 1]. More specifically, plaintiff seeks a declaration that the Tennessee Voter Identification Act, Tennessee Code Annotated § 2-7-112(a)(1)(B) (Supp. 2012), and various other provisions of Tennessee election law are unconstitutional under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions and/or violate the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (“HAVA”), 42 U.S.C. § 15482, and the  National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg, and an injunction to prevent their enforcement. Currently pending before the Court is defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted  pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6), [Doc. 4]. The plaintiff has responded, [Doc. 8], and defendants have replied, [Doc. 11].
Case 2:13-cv-00224-JRG-DHI Document 18 Filed 02/20/14 Page 1 of 26 PageID #: 179
 
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Although neither party requested oral argument on the motion, the Court determined that oral argument would be helpful in clarifying and possibly narrowing the issues before the Court. Oral argument was scheduled for December 2, 2013. The plaintiff appeared through counsel. Defendants did not appear.
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 For the reasons which follow, the motion of defendants will be GRANTED.
I. Plaintiff’s allegations
The Green Party is a self-described “political organization . . . representing all citizens sharing the ‘progressive’ political views associated with the Green Party.” [Doc. 1, ¶ 3]. The defendants are Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State, and Mark Goins, Coordinator of Elections in the office of the Secretary of State. The Tennessee Voter Identification Act (the “Act”) was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly as Public Chapter 323 on May 20, 2011, and signed into law by the governor on May 30, 2011. The Act went into effect on January 1, 2012. The Act requires Tennessee voters to supply “evidence of identification” in order to cast a ballot in an election “[t]o verify the voter’s identification.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(a)(1)(B). A voter’s identification may be verified by presenting any one of a number of  photographic identifications: (1) a Tennessee driver’s license; (2) a valid identification card issued by the State of Tennessee or the United States except for a student identification card issued by an institution of higher education; (3) a valid identification card issued pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-50-336; (4) a valid United States Passport; (5) a valid  photographic employee identification card issued by the State of Tennessee or the United States;
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Although the Court was initially inclined to simply overrule the motion to dismiss because defendants did not appear at oral argument, the Court has chosen to decide the motion because of the threshold nature of the issues raised by the motion.
Case 2:13-cv-00224-JRG-DHI Document 18 Filed 02/20/14 Page 2 of 26 PageID #: 180
 
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(6) a valid United States military identification card; or (7) an employee identification card for retired state employees. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(1) through (7). Several categories of voters are exempted from the requirement of providing evidence of identification, including any voter who is “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without payment of a fee or who has a religious objection to being photographed,”
id 
. § 2-7-112(f); voters who are eligible to cast an absentee ballot,
see id 
. § 2-6-201 (2003 and Supp. 2012) (amended 2013); voters unable to vote in person because of being hospitalized within 20 days of an election,
id.
 § 2-6-401(a)(1), (D) (2003); and voters who are full time nursing home residents at a licensed nursing home,
see
 
id 
. § 2-6-601 (2003 and supp. 2012). A person who attempts to vote but is unable to produce evidence of identification or is not exempted from the Act is permitted to cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted if the voter presents valid  proof of identification by the close of business on the second day after the election.
 Id 
. § 2-7-112(c). A voter who is indigent or who has a religious objection to being photographed is required to execute an affidavit that the person is the same individual who is casting the ballot and is indigent or has a religious objection before being allowed to vote.
 Id 
. § 2-7-112(f). Identification cards issued by a county or municipality are not evidence of identification for voting.
 Id 
. § 2-7-112(g). Plaintiff states its claims for relief in five counts. In Count I, plaintiff alleges that the  purpose of requiring voters to provide photo identification as a condition of in-person voting is to reduce/prevent voter fraud and that Tennessee has no empirical evidence of either in-person voter impersonation, that the Act will reduce such impersonation, any prior proven case of voter impersonation fraud, or that the requirements of the Act are necessary to achieve the objectives and purposes of the Act. While the photographic identification requirements of Tennessee Code
Case 2:13-cv-00224-JRG-DHI Document 18 Filed 02/20/14 Page 3 of 26 PageID #: 181

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