Voter Registration Groups Could Soon Be Fined If They Submit Incomplete Applications | Nashville Public Radio

Voter Registration Groups Could Soon Be Fined If They Submit Incomplete Applications

Apr 2, 2019

A new measure in the Tennessee General Assembly would open people or organizations that submit incomplete voter registration forms to fines.

State officials say the bill is a response to a growing number of incomplete voter applications. Opponents contend it's meant as intimidation. 

The measure (HB1079/SB971) is championed by the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, including the coordinator of elections Mark Goins.

He says during the last election cycle the state saw many incomplete voter registration forms coming from Nashville and Memphis — many at the last minute.

Goins says this creates issues for the county election commissions, which have to track down those individuals.

“This is only going after folks that create chaos intentionally or knowingly,” Goins told WPLN Tuesday.

The measure backed by Goins proposes fines of up to $10,000 for groups that submit more than 500 deficient forms.

Organizations that submit 100-500 incomplete applications would be subject to a minimum penalty of $150 up to $2,000.

The bill would also require groups to turn in the forms within 10 days of the registration drive and would require training for people conducting voter registrations of over 100 people. Groups also wouldn't be allowed to pay campaign workers per registration form. 

Tequila Johnson, the co-founder of The Equity Alliance, says the bill is an attack on organizations like hers, which focuses on registering people of color.

“We have never seen a bill like this on the floor, until we dared to register 86,000 black and brown people to vote,"Johnson said at a press conference. "This screams racism."

The risk of fines could deter people from organizing registration drives.

The measure has also received some pushback from U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, who called the bill "a new poll tax."

"As a state that has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, we shouldn't make voter registration more complicated," Cooper said in a statement. "If paper forms are too difficult, we should offer more digital options, such as same-day registration and automatic voter registration. Or we should fix our confusing forms."

The bill is scheduled to be debated Wednesday by the House Local committee.