Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed into law Thursday night a GOP proposal increasing the burdens on voter registration drives — and already a lawsuit has been filed challenging it.
The suit, filed in federal court in Tennessee by a coalition of voting rights groups, alleges that the state’s legislation violates the U.S. constitution’s amendments regarding free speech, due process and the right to vote.
The new law imposes fines on voter registration groups for turning in too many “deficient” or “incomplete” applications. It also stiffens penalties — including potential jail time — for paid voter registration workers who violate other rules regarding registration drives in the state.
Voting rights advocates fear that the law signals a new frontier in voter suppression, chilling the efforts of drives that seek to boost access to the franchise among minority and low-income people. The Tennessee law was pushed after the state — which typically has some of the lowest voting rates in the country — saw historic turnout in the 2018 midterms. In the lead-up to that election, county officials in Tennessee also faced a lawsuit for how they handled handled thousands of voter registrations turned in by a black voter group.
The new suit was brought by several groups including the state chapter of the NAACP and the Andrew Goodman Foundation, a nonprofit named after a young civil rights activist who was murdered by the KKK while trying to register African Americans to vote in 1964.
The challengers raise concerns about the law’s vague language regarding “deficient” or “incomplete” applications. The challengers raise the possibility that, under the new law, voter registration groups could be fined if an applicant uses his nickname rather full name on a form; if the applicant lists a business address rather than a home address; or if a college student does not list the full street address of her dormitory.
“In addition, there is no way for a voter registration volunteer to know whether the information provided by the voter is completely correct for each and every voter registered,” the complaint says. “If the Law extends the definition of ‘incomplete’ to include inaccurate information, it is unfair to penalize an individual or organization that has no way of evaluating the accuracy of the information the registrant has included on the form.”
Read the lawsuit below:
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