Retired US Marine Tim Thompson walked into his neighboring polling place on Super Tuesday, but once inside he faced exactly what he feared: even with a voter registration card — and a career serving his country — he wasn't allowed to vote.
Thompson, 55, had a feeling this would happen. In his home state of Tennessee, a Republican-majority legislature recently saw to it that a new law made it all the way to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk — where the state’s top politician extended his seal of approval to a controversial bill that has Thompson and others riled up. Under Tennessee's new Voter ID legislation, only certain, state-issued identification cards count inside polling centers on Election Day.
In the State of Tennessee, it takes a driver’s license, passport, government-issued ID or gun permit card to cast a vote. College students looking to are even denied that right by offering just identification from a state school. Instead it takes a gun license or other, often difficult to obtain identification card to give them that right.
On Tuesday this week, residents of ten separate states got to vote in GOP primaries. Also that day, the law was applied in Tennessee for the first time. Thompson was ready to see how the state would act when he tried to vote, so he brought cameras with him. The result was uploaded to YouTube within hours and reveals just how disenfranchised one veteran feels by a nation he fought for. A fight, adds Thompson, he waged to protect the very rights now being stripped away.
"I served my country. I served my country so you can vote. I've earned my right to vote. This is my ID," Thompson tells polling place employees while pointing to the US Marine insignia on his jacket. He entered the voting center with a baseball cap embroidered with “VETERAN” and an American flag patch on his coat as well
Thompson argues that he has used the same form of ID, his voter registration card, for decades. "I've used this for 37 years. This was good enough for my father. This was good enough for my grandfather and I refuse to show you a picture ID,” he tells a polling center supervisor in the clip.
"I'll be damned if I'll stand here and allow you to not let me vote because some governor of this state decided he wanted to eliminate my right to vote — and put conditions on it — that I fought for."
Thompson was eventually told that he could cast a vote by way of a provisional ballot which he would have two days to fill out and follow-up with — provided he can procure an acceptable ID in the meantime — but his concern is that millions of others won’t bother to take these steps. Others, he says, aren’t even aware of the new law.
"I'm standing up for the college student that can't get an ID or who hasn't had time because he's working or she's working. I'm standing up for the poor people that don't even know about this law,” says Thompson.
Another voter, E.B. Williams, tells Nashville’s WSMV News that they were in a similar predicament during this week’sSuper Tuesday. In the end, Williams said it took over two hours of “sitting around waiting” to be allowed to vote. Officials need to examine two proofs of Tennessee residency as well as proof of citizenship to be allowed to vote under the new law. Thompson says it shouldn’t be that hard.
"I took an oath in 1974 that stated I want to defend and protect American citizens on their rights to vote – their basic right to vote in an open and free election. But I guess he [Gov. Haslam] forgot about his, his oath. He did forget about his oath, because he's not protecting our rights. And it's a slap in our face," Thompson says in the online video.
More than a dozen states in the US have similar laws like the one in Tennessee. Last month a fellow vet in the state of Wisconsin was also denied his rights by providing only an ID from the Department of Veterans Affairs — which the state says isn’t good enough.
“I gave them four years of my life, why shouldn’t I be able to use my vet’s card?” Gil Paar, 69, told The Journal Times in February. “There’s a possibility that a veteran could have only this type of ID, because he’s had a stroke, let’s say, up at the VA hospital. And because of that, he had his driver’s license taken away. So case in point, he would have only this Veterans Administration ID through the hospital,” added Parr.