New Tennessee Law Exposes Voter Registration Drives To Criminal Penalties

Gov. Bill Lee / Twitter

The law could suppress voters throughout the state.

A new Tennessee law threatens to expose voter registration groups to fines and criminal penalties, according to Huffington Post.

In a lawsuit, civil rights groups allege that the purpose of the law is to suppress voting and to prevent voter registration.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) signed a law that will let officials punish voter registration drives that give in 100 or more incomplete applications. If a drive turns in 500 or more unfinished applications, the drive could be fined up to $10,000. More, the law requires the drives to give in applications 10 days after they were collected.

More, paid voter registration drives must now register with Tennessee and put on all public voter registration materials that the Tennessee secretary of state does not endorse the material. If someone violates these laws, they could serve up to almost a year in prison, and or a fine of $2,500.

In a complaint, lawyers said the new law could be detrimental to voter registration groups because it is so vague that a group may not know when it is violating a law.

“Because of their vagueness, overbreadth, and undue burden, these provisions will chill Plaintiffs’ voter registration efforts, which have focused on traditionally disenfranchised communities — African-Americans and other minorities, college students, and low-income voters,” the complaint says.

Lawyers say the law is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process guarantee and the First Amendment’s freedom of association guarantee.

“Tennessee’s law is one of the most restrictive voter suppression measures that we have seen this year. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to discourage and deter people from helping others to register to vote,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed the complaint. “There is no basis for the law’s draconian provisions that will chill basic First Amendment rights.

Governor Lee said the bill was completely justifiable.

“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.”

Read the full story here.

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