Last week, Noble Nashville reported on the possibility of a bill being passed that would make voting more difficult in the state of Tennessee. As of today, that same bill has just been passed.
The bill states that fines and penalties will be given out to voter registration groups that fail to follow proper guidelines. This includes submitting incomplete forms to the state. While forms should be submitted correctly according to most residents in Tennessee, voting groups are arguing that it’s wrong to penalize them.
If Governor Bill Lee decides to sign this bill, then Tennessee would become the first state to “threaten voter registration efforts with civil penalties for incomplete forms.” The bill was passed through senate with high numbers, coming out at 25-6.
Why are they arguing this specifically? Most voting registration groups believe that it’s criminalizing their simple efforts to get people to vote. Particularly, it’s people of color that they’re trying to get to vote as they have lower registration rates.
Why the sudden change?
The change was brought on after the 2018 midterm elections in Tennessee. There was a report of over tens of thousands black and Latino people registering to vote in the elections. It may sound like this is a win for the government and voting registration groups, but it was actually the opposite.
Nearly all of these applicants were denied for “frivolous reasons”. This bill brings forward the fact that many of these forms were not filled out correctly, or even completed fully. The bill has been passed in hopes to change this and stop this from happening again.
Voting registration groups who knowingly or intentionally file incomplete and incorrect forms will be the ones getting penalized. How they’ll be charged depends on just how many registration forms they submit wrong. Submitting just one hundred forms incorrectly can earn a group up to a $2,000 fine. Groups that submit over five hundred may be subject to a $10,000 fine.
Response from registration groups
Voter registration groups are speaking out on every moment that they get to. They believe that this bill is discriminating against them and is overall just wrong.
“Black-led, community-based organizations throughout Tennessee have been registering more voters, turning them out to vote and winning more elections for progressive issues and candidates.” said Cliff Albright, who is one of the founders of the Black Voter Matter Fund.
“We’re prepared to keep fighting,” said Charlene Oliver, a co-founder of Equality Alliance. The group is a nonprofit organization based in Tennessee that encourages African-Americans to get involved in the voting process.
Many voter registration groups feel that it’s clear the color community is being targeted with this bill.
“It’s clearly intended to have a chilling effect on voting efforts across Tennessee,” said John Ray Clemmons, a Democratic state representative.
With the new bill being passed, the government hopes to cut down on the amount of incomplete registration forms, and penalizing those who choose to submit these forms.