VICE News tweeted out quite the outrageous story yesterday. A man went to his polling station with a driver's license, birth certificate, student ID, proof of residency, everything. And he still wasn't allowed to vote.
I had my:
• valid driver's license
• student ID
• voter registration card
• a copy of my birth certificate
• my lease
and that still wasn't enough. I couldn't vote. https://t.co/GOUQlFWlRe
— VICE (@VICE) November 1, 2018
The op-ed was written by Davis Winkie, a former Vanderbilt Commodore football player who lived in Tennessee during the 2016 election. Once you actually read the piece you understand why he was turned away: State law requires either Tennessee or federal government photo ID in order to vote. Winkie only had a Georgia driver's license and no passport.
I'm sympathetic to the argument that Tennessee's voter ID laws, among the strictest in the country, are unfair to people who do not understand the photo ID requirements. But Winkie readily admits that he knew his ID wasn't valid before he went to the polling place. "I read an article in the Nashville Tennessean on the state's voter ID law, which had been changed in 2013. Unlike the previous version of this law, you had to have either a Tennessee state-issued ID or a federally-issued photo ID in order to vote…" he writes. "That article made me realize: Oh man, I don't think I can comply with the law."
So right away a lot of my sympathy dissipated, but I still felt for his plight. But then he reveals why he didn't have a Tennessee driver's license.
My wife and I were the a strange situation of being young and married, but still somewhat financially dependent on our parents. Our vehicles were registered in our parents' names, and we had Georgia driver's licenses. Registering the vehicles in Tennessee would have incurred a pretty significant tax burden, and getting a Tennessee driver's license, we were led to believe by our insurance agents, would be a problem for us to since then we'd be listed as drivers on our parents' cars without Georgia licenses. So we were in this space where we feared losing our transportation or having to incur a significant financial burden if we tried to get Tennessee driver's licenses.
So in other words, he could have gotten a Tennessee driver's license but chose not to for the sake of evading taxes and premium hikes. As a principled conservative, I of course wholeheartedly support tax evasion. But you have to then accept that taking active efforts not to establish Tennessee residency might come back and bite you if you subsequently demand the right to vote in Tennessee elections.
Winkie is mystified that he "satisfied the spirit of the voter ID law by showing my identity and my residency" and couldn't vote. There's a difference though between residency and legal residency. When it comes to residency for the purpose of voter registration, Tennessee dictates that "a person can have only one residence," and that the state must consider "place of licensing or registration of the person’s personal property" and "place of the person’s licensing for activities such as driving."
Legally, by keeping a Georgia driver's license, driving a car with Georgia plates, and refusing to get Tennessee plates or license, Winkie maintained his Georgia residency. As far as the poll worker was concerned, Winkie walked in and handed them evidence he couldn't legally vote.
My immediate thought upon reading this all is why Winkie didn't just bother to vote absentee in Georgia, where I presumed he still maintained residence. However, a piece he wrote contemporaneously for The Tennessean in 2016 about his experience makes it perfectly clear why he didn't:
At times, we struggle financially, but we keep our heads above water by strictly budgeting for our needs. We planned to maintain our voter registration and residency at my parents’ home, our permanent address in Georgia, so I kept my Georgia driver’s license when moving to Tennessee.
At the time, we also continued to pay Georgia state income tax. Recently, when my parents moved from what we considered our permanent address, my wife and I decided to become residents of Tennessee, so on October 11, we registered to vote in Davidson County. Our voter registration cards came in the mail about a week afterwards.
So Winkie was walking around with a driver's license from another state he did not reside in and could not legally claim residency in. This is … not quite legal! Tennessee law requires that new residents obtain a Tennessee driver's license and surrender their old license. It sucks that he also is required to get new vehicle registration, plates, etc., and pay higher taxes, but that's just part of what the kids these days call "adulting."
Look, there are people out there who are genuinely inconvenienced by voter ID laws due to age, infirmity, etc. The guy VICE chose to highlight just didn't feel like obeying the law. Winkie laments in his piece that he had "fallen victim to a law that was specifically designed to make people like me not be able to vote." On that count, I suppose he's right.