Judge Temporarily Blocks Tennessee Law Targeting Voter Registration Drives

BRENTWOOD, TN - NOVEMBER 06: "I Voted" stickers are seen at a polling station at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library on Election Day November 6, 2018 in Brentwood, Tennessee. Turnout is expected to be high nationwide ... BRENTWOOD, TN - NOVEMBER 06: "I Voted" stickers are seen at a polling station at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library on Election Day November 6, 2018 in Brentwood, Tennessee. Turnout is expected to be high nationwide as Democrats hope to take back control of at least one chamber of Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) MORE LESS

A federal judge on Thursday put on hold Tennessee’s law targeting voter registration drives.

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said that the groups challenging the law were likely to win the case on the merits and that allowing it to go into effect while their lawsuit is litigated would cause irreparable harm.

She called the law “troublingly vague,” and said the state had failed to explain why the new requirements and penalties were necessary.

“Forcing the plaintiffs to wait while a case winds its way through litigation would mean taking away chances to participate in democracy that will never come back,” she said.

The law was passed earlier this year by Tennessee’s GOP legislature after election officials accused a group focused on registering black voters of overburdening them with flawed voter registration forms in the days leading up to the 2018 elections.

The law would allow for harsh fines — and even prison time — to be imposed on voter registration drives that turned in a certain number of incomplete forms.

“The result is that the Act holds an organization to an increasingly more onerous standard the more effective it is at recruiting new voters,” Trauger said.

The law also required that some registration drive workers receive government training and meet new registration requirements. It additionally mandated that a disclaimer is included in voter groups’ messaging distancing their efforts from an official government operation.

Trauger called the disclaimer requirement “unconstitutionally vague” and said that it otherwise did not meet the legal standards for government-compelled speech.

Of the registration and training mandates she said she had “little basis for concluding” that those provisions were “truly necessary or substantially related to” the government’s interest in seeing that voter registration was done properly.

“The Act creates an onerous and intrusive regulatory structure for problems that, insofar as they are not wholly speculative, can be addressed with simpler, less burdensome tools,” she said.

Read her opinion here:

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Comments
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Reporters:
Newswriters:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: