A lawyer activist organization in Washington, D.C., is trying to block Tennessee’s efforts to secure its elections from fraud and incompetence by filing an injunction in federal court, but one political observer isn’t buying it, saying the law combats illegal registration efforts.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced in a press release that it made the filing in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee to stop what it calls a “voter suppression law” that is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1.
The filing is available to read in its entirety here.
The committee decried the fact that groups and people who register voters may face “civil penalties of up to $10,000 per county and up to a year in prison for each offense for errors or failing to properly comply with the law’s vague requirements.”
The organization says on its website, “It would also add civil and criminal penalties to any individuals or groups that conduct voter registration drives, which would scare most groups away from organizing events and limit the availability of voter registration assistance.”
However, Steve Gill, Political Editor of Star News Digital Media, the parent company of The Tennessee Star, said, “Contrary to what these activist groups are claiming, nothing in the new law criminalizes voter registration efforts. It does focus on illegal registration efforts that deny legitimate voters their right to have their vote counted without being diluted by those registering and casting votes illegally. Anybody seriously concerned about protecting the democratic process would applaud the new laws rather than seek to circumvent them.”
Tennessee’s current voter ID requirements are available here from the Tennessee Secretary of State.
Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation in May and activists, including the committee, immediately sued, WREG reported in May. The bill was called the first of its kind and seeks to fine and even impose jail time on groups that turn in too many incomplete signup forms or submit them too late, among other violations.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said many of the 10,000 registrations submitted in and around Memphis by the Tennessee Black Voter Project on the last day for registration in 2018 were filled out the wrong way.
But Tennessee could be first with civil penalties for submitting incomplete forms, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins has said.
Goins has said many of the registrations submitted in Memphis area-Shelby County by the Tennessee Black Voter Project included incorrect, incomplete or duplicate information; or contained the names of ineligible felons and deceased residents. The situation devolved into a testy lawsuit in the weeks before Election Day last year and consumed so much attention that it put at risk legally eligible voters who were trying to register.
Activists decry the penalties for those who play havoc with voter registrations.
According to a story by The Guardian:
A group that returns more than a hundred “deficient” forms could face a fine of up to $2,000 in each county “incorrect forms” were filled out. If more than 500 forms are found to be filled out incorrectly, that fine could be up to $10,000.
In a statement Hargett’s office said they were committed to voting rights but would not comment on pending litigation. “We want every eligible Tennessean to vote, and voter registration must be done responsibly and in a manner that does not compromise the security or integrity of elections,” the statement said.
However, the law also protects society from groups that pay workers to sign voters up when imposing quotas, The Hill reports.
According to the Associated Press, Lee said:
“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.”
Tennessee’s law also could protect against the types of fraud exposed in New York City by Project Veritas.
The video shows NYC Democratic Commissioner of the Board of Elections Alan Schulkin allegedly admitting that there is widespread voter fraud in New York City.
“Yeah, they should ask for your ID. I think there is a lot of voter fraud,” said Schulkin, who elaborated on the types of voter fraud that are taking place in New York.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.