Voter ID issues may become a thing of the past in Tennessee if the General Assembly approves new legislation proposing fingerprint readers. The bill proposes that the state implement fingerprint-reading technology to verify a voter’s identity. Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and all state agencies share the contents of their fingerprint databases with the Secretary of the State to establish this new method of ID verification.
State Representative Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) and State Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) introduced the legislation last month. With certain exceptions, current Tennessee law only requires that voters offer federal or Tennessee state IDs containing their name and photograph, such as driver’s licenses, passports, and military ID – even if they’re expired. Those exempt from these current stipulations include those who vote absentee by mail.
Neither legislator responded to The Tennessee Star with comment by press time.
At present, it appears that no states in the country implement fingerprint readers as a form of ID verification. That’s not to say that states haven’t tested the waters. West Virginia has been experimenting with facial recognition software to register military personnel overseas and issue them ballots. Their officials claimed that they were the first in the country to test this system. Last summer, reports stated that an unidentified West Coast election office contracted a biometrics company to assist in its multi-factor authentication process during elections. That same anonymous election office expanded their contract with the company last month.
Other countries, such as several in Africa, have already adopted biometrics systems for voter verification.
One likely issue for legislators might be the funding necessary to establish such a system. Another would likely be the bill’s application to those who need to vote absentee. In addition to those issues, public policy analysts have indicated that individuals harbor privacy concerns when it comes to expanding technology’s role in elections.
Despite possible privacy concerns, biometrics are becoming an increasingly common component in our society. More smartphone and technology companies are equipping their products with iris, facial, and fingerprint scanner technologies for tasks such as unlocking devices and submitting payments – and more individuals are relying on them. Even public accommodations such as airports, stadiums, and concert halls are adopting these technologies.
Last week, the bill advanced to committee in both the House and Senate. The legislation will appear before the House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee and was referred to the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
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