As Republican lawmakers have pushed through voter ID bills across the South and country, one of the strongest objections has come from voting rights groups that argue many people don't have the photo IDs required under the new laws.
Nationally, the Brennan Center for Justice estimates that about 11 percent of eligible voters don't have the kinds of ID needed to vote under the measures.
The response has been for states to offer programs to provide free IDs to those who lack them. Such efforts are often costly: Last year, Virginia spent $2 million for education and providing ID cards under a law that's more lenient than most states'.
But there's also growing evidence that such free ID programs fail to deliver on the promise of ensuring those without the needed identification are able to vote.
When Tennessee passed a stringent new photo ID requirement in 2011, for example, it was revealed that hundreds of thousands of voters didn't have the necessary identification to vote under the law. This included 230,000 seniors who fell under a state law that allows citizens 60 or older to use a driver's license without a picture.
State officials reportedly launched an "intense campaign" aimed at educating voters about the law and providing free ID cards to voters. But in July 2012, a Facing South public information request to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS) found that the state had issued only 20,923 free IDs for voting.
That number would have covered less than 10 percent of the seniors who needed new ID cards alone -- and a much smaller fraction of the total number of Tennessee voters who didn't have the required forms of photo ID, including students and those without driver's licenses.
That situation has barely improved over the last eight months. In response to a follow-up query from Facing South earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee DSHS sent an email reporting that, "As of today, March 6, 2013, our department has issued 25,513 photo identifications for voting purposes."
What does that mean for Tennessee voters? Facing South was unable to reach a Secretary of State spokesperson for comment. But after the 2012 elections, state officials said that few voters had problems at the polls in November because of lack of ID, pointing out that only 674 voters cast provisional ballots due to ID problems.
“It’s not even 1 percent of the vote,” Secretary of State spokesman Blake Fontenay said at the time.
But that's not proof that Tennessee's voter ID program is succeeding at ensuring voters have the ID they need to vote. In fact, it could just as easily be evidence of the program's failure.
As Mary Mancini at Tennessee Citizen Action argues, the more likely scenario is that many -- perhaps most -- of those who didn't have photo ID gave up and didn't even try to cast a vote on Election Day. While some voters obtained updated driver's licenses or other photo ID cards, many likely heard of the well-publicized law but didn't vote because they feared being turned away.
"The fact is, many Tennessee voters still don't have the ID they need to vote," Mancini told Facing South. "They are being disenfranchised."