Tennessee Moves Closer To Imposing Criminal Penalties On Voter Registration Drives | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Moves Closer To Imposing Criminal Penalties On Voter Registration Drives

Apr 15, 2019

Tennessee volunteer organizations that register people to vote could soon face fines if they turn in too many incomplete forms.

Monday's vote in the House of Representatives puts Tennessee one step closer from being one of the first states to impose criminal penalties on registration drives.

The legislation (HB1079/SB971) is championed by state election officials. They claim it was prompted by an attempt to register thousands of people in Memphis at the deadline last year.

"The Secretary of State’s offices brought this bill to encourage responsible voter registration efforts going forward," said Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, Monday. 

The measure imposes fines of up to $10,000 dollars on organizations that pay people to conduct registration drives, and turn in more than 500 incomplete forms.

It would also require groups to submit the forms within 10 days. And it would prohibit out-of-state poll watchers.

But Tennessee has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country.

And opposition is building. About 100 protesters were at the Capitol for the vote.

Groups like the League of Women Voters and the ACLU say this bill would intimidate groups that want to increase turnout.

Tequila Johnson, the co-founder of The Equity Alliance, said they will keep fighting the legislation.

"We will not stand aside and watch our voter participation numbers fall to the bottom again," Johnson said. "We are here, we are united and we will get you voted out if you vote for this bill."

The Senate is expected to debate the measure in the next weeks.