Election officials ready for voters without photo ID

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nearly 180 election officials from Middle Tennessee counties attended training seminars Thursday at Henry Horton State Park and learned what to do if someone wants to vote without a government identification card showing their photograph.

Even though Tennessee has a recently enacted law requiring voters to identify themselves with a photo ID card, Marshall County Election Commission Chairman Don Wright says, "Some people just walk up and say they want to vote. Well, we don't do that anymore.

"We're not trying to keep people from voting," Wright said. "We just don't want them voting in Marshall County and Pulaski or Columbia."

Thursday's seminars were presented by the Tennessee Association of County Election Officers. TACEO spokesmen provided tips on how to serve the public and help people comply with the law.

People without a photo ID card are not to be told that they can't vote, Wright explained. Rather, they'll be shown how they can cast a ballot that will be counted if they return within two working days with a photo ID. The election commission chairman acknowledged the likelihood of some voters who will make it known that they're unhappy with the system.

To avoid that, Wright said, "We're going to have town meetings to train people on how to treat people who don't have a picture ID." Such town meetings, while ostensibly established for the people who serve as poll workers for the county election office, would be subject to the open meetings law, and therefore any Tennessee citizen may attend.

As for those who appear at a poll on election day without a photo ID, Wright said, "They'll not vote on a machine. They'll vote on a paper ballot."

That paper ballot is called a provisional ballot, and it's a system that's been in existence for years, although it's been used for other reasons.

When the TACEO seminars started Thursday, Wright welcomed the association members to Marshall County.

Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins explained the paperwork process, according to Tristan Arnold, the administrator of elections for Marshall County.

Photo IDs that are accepted to identify someone for voting purposes include state or federal government cards such as a handgun carry permit, a drivers license, a regular photo ID issued at the office of the county clerk or the Safety Department's drivers licensing station, a passport, a military ID and a Veterans Administration card.

Different colored envelopes will be used for the ballots, Arnold said. An orange envelope is used to hold a paper ballot if the voter has no photo ID.

"If it's a normal provisional ballot, it goes in a green envelope," she said. "That would be used if, for example, they're not on the signature list, or when there's a question on whether they're registered or not."

Meanwhile, Arnold reports election office records show that there are 14,948 registered voters who are recognized as active voters, meaning they've voted in recent elections. There are 2,818 inactive voters, she said.

"If they don't vote in two consecutive November elections, they will be purged," Arnold said, meaning those people's names will be removed from the county's list of registered voters.

Purging voter registration lists is a routine maintenance procedure conducted in all Tennessee counties and all other voting places in America, based on local laws.

"Inactive voters are put on an inactive voter list ... in odd numbered years," she said.

There will be no purge before the March 6, 2012, primary, meaning if someone is registered to vote now, then they will be registered for the Presidential Preferential Primary when the two major political parties will nominate their candidates to run for president.

That also means that there are 17,766 registered voters in Marshall County. With 30,617 people counted in the county by the 2010 census, it might be said that 58 percent of the population is registered to vote. The population figure, however, includes children and convicts who've lost their citizenship rights.

Marshall County's next elections will be on Aug. 2, 2012. Offices up for election include the county assessor, the sessions and juvenile court judge, several seats on the school board and town board seats in Cornersville and Chapel Hill.

TACEO held its training seminar at the state park just south of Chapel Hill on a suggestion from Arnold. The park provided box lunches for TACEO, which met in the conference lodge.