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Voting in 2012? Get a photo ID

A new law handed down from the Tennessee General Assembly this year requires voters in the state to show photo identification at the polls before they will be allowed to cast their votes, Unicoi County Elections Administrator Sarah Bailey said last week.
The new legislation comes as a result of the state’s effort to eradicate voter fraud and is aimed at making the elections process more secure, a release from the county’s election commission said last week.
The law does provide exemptions for some citizens, including absentee voters, nursing home or assisted living facility residents, people who are hospitalized or people who have religious objections to being photographed.
Indigent citizens who find themselves unable to pay for a photo ID will also be exempt from the new legislation, which will affect voters in the county beginning in 2012.
“The biggest thing we’re working on right now is educating the community about this,” Bailey added. “We’re really trying to get the word out and let people know what this new law requires.”
Bailey indicated she will be meeting with several civic groups in the county in an attempt to “pass on the message” about the state’s new law.
Tennessee driver’s licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety IDs, state-issued handgun carry permits and military IDs will all be accepted forms of identification at polls. Bailey said that any state- or federal-issued photo ID can be used, even if it is expired.
“So, if people have an old driver’s license laying around that does have a photo on it, even if it’s expired, they can still bring that with them and use it,” she said.
One common form of identification, however, will not be considered valid at Tennessee polling stations.
“One ID that I’m afraid a lot of people are going to think is valid is a college student ID,” Bailey said. “That will not be an acceptable form of photo identification.”
More than 500 registered voters in the county carry driver’s licenses that do not include a photograph, according to Unicoi County Clerk Mitzi Bowen.
While the state has said that all Department of Safety driver service centers will add photos to licenses for free for citizens with no other form of valid photo identification, Bowen indicated that many citizens need a better solution.
“The waits at some of those places can be up to three hours long,” she said. “We have two DMVs nearby – Elizabethton and Boone’s Creek – but they both average about the same wait, depending on the day.”
Bowen said last week that her office has been working with the state on a solution that will set some concerned citizens’ minds at ease.
Last week, Bowen got the official word that clerk’s offices that offer driver’s license services will also be allowed to add a photo to someone’s license for free, as long as that person has no other form of valid photo ID and is able to provide proof of voter registration.
“This was very important for us to get this here in this office,” Bowen said. “They can walk straight in here, they may have a 10-15 minute wait, they can get their photos and they can be gone.”
With nearly 11,000 citizens in Unicoi and the surrounding four counties affected by the new law, Bowen said she expects an influx of business in the office from out-of-county residents, as the nearest clerk’s office to offer driver’s license services is in Johnson County.
Bailey said that voters may visit the election office at 106 Nolichucky Ave. if they have lost their voter card and need a new one in order to receive a free photo on their driver’s licenses at either the clerk’s office or a DMV center.
Bowen expects her office will begin offering free photo upgrades for driver’s licenses to registered voters within a month after she and the other clerks complete state training and receive new forms for the process.
Questions about the new state law may be directed to the election office at 743-6521. Bowen’s office may be reached at 743-3381 for questions regarding adding a photo to driver’s licenses.