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Memphis library cards acceptable as photo ID for vote: court

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Voters will be allowed to use Memphis library cards as photo identification in the November 6 election, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a blow to Republicans who wanted only ID issued by the federal and state governments to be allowed.

Tennessee is among a number of states that have passed laws requiring voters to show photo ID. Republicans say the laws are needed to deter fraud, while Democrats say they are aimed at depressing turnout by voters who typically support their party.

The Tennessee law, which took effect at the beginning of the year, requires people to show a driver's license, state-issued handgun carry permit, a U.S. passport or another form of government-issued ID to vote. Student IDs are not acceptable.

Memphis, which is a heavily Democratic city in the otherwise mostly Republican state, filed a lawsuit in July claiming the law would disenfranchise voters who used other valid government-issued IDs to vote.

The case went to the Tennessee appeals court, which ruled last week that the requirement that voters have photo identification is constitutional but that the Memphis library cards at the heart of the legal challenge were acceptable at polling places.

Tennessee's Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett appealed the provision regarding the library cards to the state Supreme Court.

In its ruling on Thursday, that court agreed to hear Hargett's appeal but declined to set it aside in the meantime, saying that "the right to vote has profound constitutional significance" and ordering that the Memphis library cards be accepted for the upcoming election.

Mark Goins, coordinator of elections for Tennessee and a Republican, said his office had advised the county election commission to accept the cards following the ruling on Thursday.

"We continue to believe the General Assembly clearly intended for only state- or federally-issued photo IDs to be valid for the purposes of identifying voters and remain confident the Supreme Court will confirm our interpretation," Goins said.

Memphis is the only place in the state at which identification other than that issued by the state or federal government will be accepted, Goins said.

(Reporting By Tim Ghianni; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)

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