A Tennessee program meant to mitigate the potential disenfranchising effects of a new voter identification law is reaching only a small percentage of residents who don't have ID, a new report finds.

Tennessee's voter ID law went into effect at the beginning of the year, requiring citizens to present state or federally issued photo identification, such as driver's licenses, passports or concealed handgun carry permits, in order to cast a ballot. Student IDs and library cards were excluded from the list of acceptable forms of identification, though officials in Memphis are mounting an effort to make library cards acceptable.

Pro-voter ID legislators responded to concerns over the law by requiring the state to issue free photo IDs to residents who can't afford them. According to an inquiry from the Institute for Southern Studies, however, the state has only "issued 20,923 state IDs for voting purposes to citizens in Tennessee." That potentially leaves hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans still lacking the ID they will need to vote in November.

According to studies by voting rights group the Brennan Center, up to 10 percent of registered voters nationwide lack valid photo ID cards. Using that figure, the Institute for Southern Studies points out that Tennessee, with around 3.9 million registered voters, may be home to more than 380,000 citizens who wouldn't be able to vote if elections were held today.

Elderly Tennesseans could fall victim to a particularly complex problem, as earlier reports found that 126,000 registered senior voters have already partaken in a state program allowing them to get driver's licenses issued without photographs, which aren't valid to use at polling stations.

The huge disparity between the number of voters who still need IDs and the number of IDs issued could portend mass disenfranchisement. From the Institute for Southern Studies Facing South blog:

That figure would only cover 17 percent of Tennessee seniors who are registered to vote but who, according to state records, lack photos on their driver's licenses, potentially leaving as many as 100,000 citizens aged 60 and up without the needed identification to vote.

Using the higher estimate of 10 percent of state voters without photo ID -- both seniors and non-elderly citizens -- the number of Tennesseans lacking the required ID could reach up to more than 300,000.

Voting rights groups maintain that voter ID measures discourage eligible voters -- particularly the elderly, students and minorities -- from exercising their franchise. In this case, voters wanting to use the state's free ID provision must make their way to a Department of Motor Vehicles office and submit a number of documents for approval. Opponents argue that this process can be time-consuming, difficult for non-driving individuals and sometimes impossible if a person doesn't possess the required documents. Furthermore, they contend that the laws are enacted to address a voter fraud problem that studies have found is rare.

Proponents allege that voter fraud is more prevalent than those studies suggest, and claim that legislation is needed to preserve the integrity of elections.

While Tennessee is one of the few states that has offered to issue IDs free of charge, its law has already led to some problems at the polls. According to recent Associated Press report on nationwide voter ID efforts, the state had 154 blocked ballots in its March primary.

Voter ID efforts are igniting a firestorm of controversy across the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the legislative moves earlier this week, equating them to "poll taxes."

While voter ID measures in states including Texas await federal approval after challenges to their constitutionality, similar legislation has already gone into effect in others. A report earlier this month found that Pennsylvania's voter ID law could end up disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.

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  • Florida Eliminates Early Voting On Sundays

    Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as <a href="http://www.postonpolitics.com/2012/03/black-dems-trying-to-change-sunday-pre-election-voting-restriction/" target="_hplink">many as 30 percent</a> of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.

  • Photo ID Firestorm Rocks South Carolina

    The Justice Department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/south-carolina-voter-id-law_n_1168162.html" target="_hplink">dealt a blow </a>to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/south-carolina-voter-id-law-lawsuit-justice-department_n_1260369.html" target="_hplink">with a lawsuit</a> that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the <a href="http://westashley.patch.com/articles/democrats-combat-voter-id-law-by-organizing#video-9786253" target="_hplink">West Ashley Patch reports</a>. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."

  • Disenfranchised Grandmother Sues Pennsylvania

    Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-law-viviette-applewhite_n_1472192.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit </a>with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/montco_memo/142671935.html" target="_hplink">700,000 Pennsylvanians</a> lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">the Brennan Center</a>, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.

  • Kansas Moves To Accelerate Proof Of Citizenship Law

    The Kansas House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">voted earlier this year</a> to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.<br> Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.</blockquote> Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">according to the Brennan Center</a>. The bill to change the start date <a href="http://salinapost.com/2012/05/10/kobach-concedes-kansas-voter-citizenship-plan-dead/" target="_hplink">eventually failed</a>, but will still go into effect next year.

  • Wisconsin Law Continues To Disenfranchise Voters After Suspension

    Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/wisconsin-voter-id-law-scott-walker_n_867090.html" target="_hplink">signed a voter ID bill into law</a>, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional</a>. Still, poll workers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID</a> during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls </a>because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em></a>.