The Nuances of Voting in Tennessee 

Tying votes for or against proposed amendment to the governor’s race; the cynical voter ID requirement.

click to enlarge bill_haslam.jpg

Early voting has begun for the various contests and ballot issues that culminate on November 4th, and there would seem to be ample interest in the outcomes of at least three of the proposed amendments to the state Constitution that

are on the ballot, as well as for several of the elective positions being contested.

The race for U.S. Senator has generated more interest than usual these days in a state that has progressively become more one-party in its sentiments. And, while it would be misleading to suggest that there is much suspense in the statewide race for governor, even that race — one in which Republican governor Bill Haslam is a shoo-in for reelection — has become a conjuring point in strategies for boosting or defeating this or that amendment. If one is dead set against a given amendment, one take on how to defeat it is to make sure to vote in the governor's race — literally for anyone at all — while going ahead to cast one's vote on the no side for the displeasing amendment.

The idea is to raise the threshold for the amendment's success. That's based on a constitutional formula that is applied specifically to the amendment process. To succeed, an amendment must garner a majority that is equal to or larger than what would constitute a majority of those voting in the race for governor.

Conversely, one might avoid voting for governor altogether if the aim is to lower the threshold for a favored amendment. The logic of these strategies is more than a little abstruse, a bit like Martian algebra, but the mechanics of it all, either way, seem simple enough. The real question is whether it is desirable to admit that much cynicism into the voting process. Understandably, Haslam, when asked last week about this manner of consciously linking a pro or con vote on an amendment to one's choice in the governor's race, said, "I obviously don't like that."

We're not sure we're crazy about such a strategy, either, realistic as it may be.

But we're more concerned, frankly, about another, more prevalent way of influencing the voting process — one that applies now in Tennessee to any kind of election, state or local. And that is the requirement, built into state law as of 2012, that anyone desiring to vote must provide a government-issued ID bearing a photograph. The purpose was to prevent fraud, said the GOP sponsors of the law, though ID fraud has been virtually nonexistent in Tennessee or anywhere else.

But, while the law has had little or no effect on voter fraud, what it and a similar law in Kansas have done, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is to suppress the vote among black and younger voters, for a variety of reasons having to do with a proportionally lower possession of photo IDs among those demographic groups. We would add that elderly voters are equally disadvantaged by the requirement.

The report makes it obvious. This law is worse than cynical. It is repressive and should be changed.

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