Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a Republican, said he believes his state's proposed photo ID law will increase citizen confidence in the process and combat fraud that could be going undetected.
“I can't figure out who it would disenfranchise,” Hargett said. “The only people I can think it disenfranchises (are) those people who might be voting illegally.”
Hargett said the measure moving through Tennessee's legislature – now controlled by Republicans – would accommodate people who don't have IDs by having them sign oaths of identity, which provide more prominent warning to potential fakers than the standard name-signing.
Party leaders advanced several ID proposals this week with successful votes in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio and Texas.
About half of states are considering measures to create or strengthen ID requirements this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many are considering stringent controls that would mirror laws in Georgia and Indiana, which require voters who don't have photo ID at the polls to return to election offices within days and produce identification in order to get their votes counted.
In the South, the issue comes with a burden of history for black residents who recall past barriers to voting such as violence, literacy tests and other methods. The Voting Rights Act still requires a number of Southern states to get Justice Department approval of redistricting efforts to ensure that minorities' voting strength is upheld.
William Barber, president of North Carolina's chapter of the NAACP, said the photo ID measure amounts to “nothing but nuanced, 21st-century Jim Crow.”
Henry Frye recalled the literacy test he failed in 1956, after he'd returned from serving in the Air Force and tried to register to vote.
Frye, who eventually became North Carolina's first black Supreme Court justice, spent 14 years as a lawmaker in the General Assembly and focused much of his time trying to make it easier for people to register and vote. He said the photo ID measure appears to be a step in the wrong direction.
Elections officials in North Carolina said most of the voting-fraud allegations they investigate turn out to be unfounded.
States already have ways to check the identity of voters when they register and when they cast a ballot. North Carolina's current law requires residents to provide documents proving their name and address in order to register. Those who register improperly can be charged with a felony.
At the polls, North Carolina voters must declare their valid name and address to get their ballot. Impersonating another registered voter is a felony, as is voting more than once in an election.
In Georgia, which has had a strict voter ID law on the books for years, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp said he's not aware of anyone caught committing fraud. He says the rules help prevent people who try to file improper votes from having them counted.
Estimated costs vary for states to implement the changes and provide picture IDs for those who don't have qualifying identification. North Carolina estimates a cost of more than $3 million in the first year and about $400,000 a year thereafter.