Tennessee Wants to Make Registering Voters Even Harder

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee
Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Tennessee is well on its way to suppressing the votes of people who aren’t registered to vote, and it seems the state’s Gov. Bill Lee is completely on board with signing the suppressive bill at hand, even if he’s yet to read it.

On Monday, the Associated Press reported, Tennessee House lawmakers approved a final version of HB 1079, which would penalize voter registration groups for submitting incomplete forms. Under the bill, nonprofit groups assisting voter registrations would face fines for submitting too many incomplete forms and also for submitting forms too late, along with myriad other offenses related to voter registration—a threat to groups attempting to register people who currently aren’t.

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Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who supports the bill, said the measure was necessary after “many” voter registrations submitted on the final day of registration in 2018 were filled out incorrectly, the AP reported. However, the bill’s critics see the law as an attempt to diminish the efforts of voter registration drives and organizations that assist minority Tennesseans, such as the Tennessee Black Voter Project. From the AP:

Among other steps, the legislation would establish so-called Class A misdemeanor offenses if registration groups knowingly or intentionally pay workers based on quotas; if they enroll 100 or more voters in one year and don’t complete state training; or if they enroll 100-plus voters and fail to send in completed forms by the deadline or within 10 days of registration drives. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to almost a year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.

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Under the legislation, the state also could fine groups that submit 100 or more incomplete voter registration forms that lack a name, address, date of birth, declaration of eligibility or signature. Penalties can reach $10,000 per county where violations occur if more than 500 incomplete forms are submitted. The bill also outlaws out-of-state poll watchers.

The bill wouldn’t penalize voter registration groups for fraudulent forms, since state law already covers that already. The bill also would only apply to groups with paid workers, although concerns remain that largely volunteer-based groups such the League of Women Voters could be subject to it if they receive grants.

Tennessee Gov. Lee has 10 days from receiving the bill from the legislature to either veto it or sign it into law. However, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the governor seemed disinterested in promising organizations asking for his veto that he’d do anything of the sort, instead saying that the voter registration process shouldn’t “clog up or bog down the system,” but that he’s yet to read the bill.

“I am aware that there’s a lot of interest around (the bill),” Lee told the Tennessean. “I think the more people that are voting, the better we are off as a state...I think that we also need to encourage a process that is efficient and fair and free and does not clog up or bog down the system...We’ve got to consider both of those as we go forward. That’s why I want to see exactly what this bill says.”

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Samantha Grasso

Splinter Staff Writer, Texan