The Tennessee Department of State has launched a campaign to educate citizens about the new photo identification requirement that will go into effect for elections held in the state after Jan. 1, 2012.
After that date, people who wish to vote will be required to show photo identification when they arrive at the polls. Accepted forms of identification include any photo ID issued by the State of Tennessee -
including drivers' licenses - and photo IDs issued by other states or the federal government, including U.S. passports, government employee identification cards and military ID cards.
The law, a safeguard against voter fraud, allows people who forget to bring photo IDs to the polls to cast provisional ballots and provide their county election officials with proof of identity within two business days after an election. People who vote absentee are not required to show photo IDs. And people who have religious objections to being photographed may sign oaths acknowledging their identities.
People who can't afford other forms of photo identification may get a state-issued ID, free of charge, at drivers' license offices around the state.
"I believe this new requirement is a common sense step that will increase public confidence in our elections," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "Requiring photo IDs will decrease the chances that an eligible voter can
be impersonated by someone else at the polls. As a voter, I want to know that my ballot counts just the same - no more, no less - as any other eligible voter. Photo IDs help ensure people aren't casting more than one
ballot - and that those who are ineligible to vote don't cast ballots at all. For those reasons, photo IDs are one more tool we can use to help combat voter fraud."
The Tennessee General Assembly approved the photo ID requirement during this year's legislative session. Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Debra Maggart were the prime sponsors of the legislation.
The Department of State includes the Division of Elections, which will be spearheading the outreach effort to citizens. As part of that effort, the Division of Elections has provided local election officials with information about the new requirement that will be distributed to people casting ballots in municipal elections being held around Tennessee this
year. Also, information about the new law will be posted on the Department of State's web site.
Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins said those are only two of the many ways the department will be using to get its message out to the public.
"It is very important to us that people understand this new requirement so they are not surprised when they get to the polls next year," Coordinator Goins said. "I am encouraging election officials and other leaders in Tennessee's 95 counties to help us spread the word about photo IDs. I invite civic groups and other organizations to contact our office for information that they can distribute to their members - and to invite their county administrator of elections to come to a meeting to explain how the new law will work."
Secretary Hargett and Coordinator Goins also plan to make the new law a recurring theme during their public speaking appearances around the state.
"I strongly believe that citizens of our state are comfortable with the idea of showing photo IDs in order to vote - just as they must do to board a plane, cash a check or perform any number of routine activities," Secretary Hargett said. "A poll conducted last month by Rasmussen Reports indicated that 75 percent of people across the country support the photo
ID requirement - with only 18 percent against it. Other polls have shown even stronger support for photo IDs, so we feel people clearly understand the benefit of making this change in order to help protect the integrity of our elections."
To view answers to some frequently asked questions about the new law, go