UPDATE: Memphis officials appeal to federal court on library card voter ID

Memphis is asking a federal judge in Nashville, Tenn., to allow library cards with photo ID as acceptable identification under the state’s new voter ID law.

The city and Memphis resident Daphne Turner-Golden Tuesday asked for a restraining order to stop election officials from denying use of a public library photo ID.

The city asserts the cards should be sufficient, but Mark Goins, the state election coordinator, has said they are not. The law requires IDs to be issued by the state or federal government; a city ID would not suffice.

The city administration was motivated to create a way for residents to get photo identification after a former city employee died from heat-related causes last summer. He was not able to get electricity or other utilities because he could not show a photo ID.

Library cards satisfy the photo voter ID requirement because they are issued by an “entity of the state,” city attorney Herman Morris Jr., said in a statement.

“When they passed that law that said you had to have a photo ID by a state entity or
a federal entity, but it didn’t really have to be an entity that you’re in or that you’re
voting in,” Morris said. “It could be a fishing license from the state of Alaska that
expired 10 years ago.”

At least 300 people got the new cards in the first weekend; 200 were renewals, according to a city official.

By Kassondra Cloos, News21

Charlotte Grant: Celebrating sobriety by finding her voice at the ballot box

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., has made a habit of voting since ending her drug use in 1998. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21.

Charlotte A. Grant, 37, of Nashville, Tenn., was convicted of 112 misdemeanors over four years, and though she never lost her voting rights, it was not until she was clean that she realized the impact of her vote. Grant has been a regular voter since her sobriety in 1998.

“For years, I was never heard, never had a right or a choice in anything because the drugs controlled me. When I got clean, that’s what most citizens do: vote and have a voice. That inspired me. I didn’t feel like I was a criminal anymore. I felt like I was just everybody else.”

By Carl Straumsheim and Michael Ciaglo, News21

Felon recalls 2008 return to the election booth

When Katrina M. Frierson was told she could no longer vote she said her “self-esteem was shot back to the ground.”

Frierson was convicted of 17 felonies relating to drug and weapons charges in the 1980s and 90s. She spent eight years in jail and another seven on probation.

She has since turned her life around and now runs a halfway home for women fighting substance abuse.

In Tennessee, a single felony conviction means losing one’s right to vote. To regain it, felons have to complete the full term of their sentence and fill out a Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights.

Frierson said she rushed to complete this process before the 2008 presidential election.

“Before my convictions, voting was a really essential part of my life,” she said. “I actually worked on the voting election committee, meaning that I was the one that was sitting out at the polls at 5:30 in the morning.”

Frierson said casting her ballot in 2008 was a highlight for the year.

“When I received my voting rights, it made me a better human being, a better member of society. It felt like a marriage. It felt like a birthday, a graduation,” she said. “But most of all, it was a good challenge for me to be a better member of society.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

Tennessee organization encourages felons to exercise voting rights

H.U.G.G.S. Inc. was founded by felon Sherri Jackson, center, in Nashville, Tenn., to help felons integrate into society by finding jobs and helping to restore their voting rights. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/News21

Sherri Jackson is celebrating her fifth year as a re-enfranchised voter. As executive director of the Nashville, Tenn., nonprofit H.U.G.G.S. Inc., she helps felons, like herself, integrate into society.

Jackson and about 35 other volunteers guide felons through a program that teaches time management and life skills while preparing them for education and employment.

“This is the one-stop shop,” Jackson said.

Since 2006, H.U.G.G.S., which stands for Humility, Understanding, God, Grace and Spiritual Strength, has helped about 100 felons restore their voting rights. Jackson said she had to lose that right before realizing its importance.

“Before I was convicted … I didn’t vote … I didn’t care to vote,” Jackson said. “I felt that I did not have a voice.”

Jackson gained a new perspective.

“Once your voting rights are taken, you really don’t have a voice or a citizenship,” she said. “I just got really excited about being a part of something that is major.”

By Carl Straumsheim, News21

Photo ID opponents struggle to find disenfranchised Tennessee voters

Tennessee’s photo voter ID law took effect in January, and while no lawsuits have been filed, lawyers are looking for affected voters willing to challenge the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been trying to file a lawsuit, but no plaintiffs have come forward.

“They remain silent and their right to vote is chilled, through no fault of their own,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU in Tennessee, “and they’re being labeled as apathetic.”

Many potential clients have been able ultimately to acquire the necessary ID, said attorney George Barrett.

Tennessee is not subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, so officials there do not need federal approval to change state and local election law. States with voter ID challenges such as South Carolina and Texas, which need Section 5 pre-clearance, have lawsuits pending and building a case in these states is easier than in Tennessee, Barrett said, because of the federal requirement.

By Kassondra Cloos, News21

Tennessee transit service offers rides to patrons seeking photo ID

The Transit Authority in Jackson, Tenn., is offering $1 roundtrip bus rides to the driver’s testing center for those who need a photo ID.

The bus route does not usually serve the testing center, transit general manager Johnny Gullett said, and the service will continue until Aug. 31.

“We heard that anybody who was going to vote in the upcoming election had to have a picture ID, a state issued or federally issued ID, and we thought that was very unfair,” Gullett said.

The service began in March, and Gullett estimates that about 25 people have ridden the bus, although he said he had hoped more would take advantage of the service.

By Kassondra Cloos, News21