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.
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