A new Tennessee law creating more oversight for voter registration group along with potentially large fines is under fire by multiple groups, now including the American Civil Liberties Union.
The law makes Tennessee the first to fine voter registration groups for turning in too many incomplete signup forms, prompting federal lawsuits and protests by critics who said it would suppress efforts to register minorities and other voters.
The national organization joins multiple local groups like the Tennessee NAACP that filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville immediately after the law was signed by Gov. Bill Lee last week.
The ACLU announced its lawsuit against the state in a tweet Thursday.
Tennessee ranks 44th in voter registration.
Politicians should focus on improving that dismal rate and ensuring local election officials have adequate resources to do their jobs, not silencing civic groups who are engaging fellow citizens in our democracy. — ACLU (@ACLU) May 9, 2019
The measure, which applies to paid registration groups, creates class A misdemeanors if groups knowingly or intentionally pay workers based on quotas; if they enroll 100 or more voters and don’t complete state training; or if they enroll 100-plus voters and fail to ship 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.
The state can also fine groups that submit 100 or more incomplete voter registration forms in a year 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 secretary of state’s office declined to comment on the previous lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville. But Republican House Speaker Glen Casada did not shy from weighing in.
“They’ll lose,” he predicted of the voter registration groups that sued.
Lee also defended his signing of the bill last week.
“This bill was presented because of actual circumstances that were meant to confuse the integrity, or to create a lack of integrity in the voting process,” Lee said. “I think we want to provide for fair, for genuine, for elections with integrity, and that’s why I signed the bill.”