A policy change in the way driver's licenses and identification cards are issued is raising more questions under Tennessee's politically-charged photo ID requirement to vote.
By the end of August, all Driver Service Centers in Tennessee will begin issuing temporary paper cards to residents when they get a new or replacement license or identification before their permanent ID is mailed to them. While the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TDSHS) says the effort is aimed at increasing efficiency and protecting Tennesseans, some advocates for people without homes worry the policy can keep residents from accessing essential services and from exercising their right to vote.
'Central issuance' is a new policy which represents a change from each individual service center printing and issuing cards to one central office printing them and mailing them within one business week.
"This change was made to increase efficiency in the issuance process and to reduce the potential for identity theft and fraud," said Dayla Qualls, public information officer for TDSHS. "Central issuance will also reduce the paperwork processed at the driver service centers and decrease the wait time."
The Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville offers a ministry where it helps people experiencing homelessness obtain a valid ID. Its pastor, Ken Locke, said that the policy change was not well thought out.
"We help about 35 plus people per month obtain new ID cards so you can imagine we have an interest," Locke said. "Furthermore, I lost my own driver’s license recently and was surprised by the new policy."
He said the temporary ID, which the Department calls an "interim paper document," is too fragile for Tennesseans living outdoors.
"The temporary license, while an exact duplicate of the actual license, is on flimsy paper and you are specifically told not to laminate it," Locke said. "I don’t see how people living on the streets can keep it safe. One good soaking from a summer shower and it would be ruined."
In addition, Locke said the Department seems to have forgotten that some Tennesseans do not have a permanent address.
"Furthermore, finally getting the actual card in the mail is dicey if you have no permanent address," Locke explained. "While mail can be delivered [in Nashville] to Room in the Inn (RITI) and the [Nashville] Rescue Mission there has to be a bit of uncertainty associated with them. And if someone is locked up, will the mission or RITI hold the mail for 6 months or a year until they get out?"
Qualls said that having a permanent address is required for IDs. While this is not a requirement for voter registration, having a photo ID is.
"A residential address is required on the driver license per state statue. We can also mail a driver license to a post office box, if the citizen can produce a residential address," Qualls explained. Additionally, "[t]he department will accept the address of a homeless shelter or local mission if the Director of the facility writes a letter stating the citizen resides there."
However, in Nashville and across Tennessee, a lack of shelter beds has been a persistent problem, leaving some to use mail services at some shelters but to continue to reside on the streets. It is not clear if these residents can qualify to get their ID.
"This new policy, while doubtless[ly] saving the state money, is certainly not engineered with the needs of our most vulnerable citizens in mind," Pastor Locke said. "It is another glaring example of how the 'haves' are not thinking about the 'have nots.'"