Photo and Story by Bryanna Weinstein/Contributing Writer
As part of an ongoing series of Fall Honors Lectures on the subtopic of “Suffrage”, students listened in on a legislative panel this past Monday.
The panel included Hamilton County State Representative and MTSU graduate Judge Mike Carter, Rutherford County State Senator and MTSU graduate pharmacist Dr. Shane Reeves, Rutherford County State Representative and Murfreesboro physician Dr. Bryan Terry, Rutherford County State Representative and MTSU professor Dr. Charles Baum.
Moderated by Dr. Mark Byrnes, MTSU Provost, the panel discussed topics such as civic participation, citizenship and voting in Tennessee.
Everyone on the panel first introduced themselves to the students so they could get a sense of who they were and their political backgrounds, and what really prepared them to be where they are now.
Byrnes then proceeded to ask the first question pertaining to a law recently passed in the legislature regarding voting in the state–something which Tennessee ranks the lowest in terms of turnout for registration. Under the controversial law, HB 1079/SB 0971, a person or organization conducting a voter registration drive could face civil or criminal penalties if they file 100 or more registration forms that are “deficient” or “incomplete.”
Governor Bill Lee signed the GOP-backed legislation in May.
The bill would make Tennessee the first to fine voter registration groups for turning in too many incomplete signup forms, which prompted critics to say it would suppress efforts to register minorities and other voters.
Rep. Mike Carter seemed to push back the critics saying, “The bill is designed to protect our most valued right.”
Sen. Shane Reeves mentioned there is no impact on organizations such as the League of Women Voters or others who often run voting registration drives. The bill is meant to prevent rigging of elections and voter fraud, which occurred in the past in other local elections such as in Shelby County. Rep. Bryan Terry explained that the bill was passed not only to prevent this fraud and rigging, but also to increase convenience for voters.
Throughout the whole discussion, every panelist stressed the importance of voting and registering to vote. It is a right that every citizen has, and to impact real change, they must go out and vote for who they want to see in office, locally and federally.
However, when it came to questions from those in attendance, things became a bit tense. One audience member asked the panel to explain the rationale for not allowing students to use their student IDs to vote. Rep. Mike Carter at first wondered, “Do they not have a driver’s license?” but then answered, “There are as many fraudulent college IDs as there are legitimate. We must protect our elected system.”
Rep. Charles Baum pointed out that there are unique provisions to help those who do not have a driver’s license. They are seldom used but he thought they should be brought up more. Those who have religious objections or those who can’t afford to get a picture ID can get one for free at one of state locations for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. There is a location in every county.
Another member of the audience began his questions with some comments that accused the panel of not reading the House bill, which does not differentiate between an individual being paid and not paid to register others to vote, in full. The penalty is still applied to volunteers at these drives.
His next comment backtracked to the first audience member’s question about student IDs.
“You can vote with a photo ID being a Tennessee handgun carry permit with a photo on it but you can’t with an MTSU ID. What is the purpose of the photo ID at the polling place? The purpose is so you can say, yup, that face is the face standing in front of me and that name is who you say you are and I can look it up on this computer and confirm that and I can send you to that booth so there’s no reason an MTSU ID should not suffice to vote in the polling place.”
The audience member came prepared and then mentioned that Tennessee doesn’t have an automatic voter registration, all mail voting or same day registration at polling locations. In this county alone, 14,881 voters have been purged and are unaware of it. Meaning they won’t find out until the crucial 2020 election that they can’t vote.
They were short on time, but did their best to answer their questions.
“It seems to me that if you wanna be registered to vote in the state of Tennessee, it’s never been easier if you want to register,” Rep. Charles Baum answered. He also gave the website address to those who were unaware where they could register.
Sen. Shane Reeves ended the panel with some words in response, “If you’re not registered to vote in the state of Tennessee nowadays…You’re either number one, you don’t know how to vote. Number two, you do know how to vote, but you don’t care. Number three, you do know how to vote and you do care, for some reason, you just think your vote just doesn’t count. But if you wanna get registered in Tennessee today, register.”
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