ACLU: Tennessee Is Improperly Tossing People Off State Voter Rolls

Posted at 10:45 PM, Nov 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-04 23:45:01-04

With early voting already wrapped up this week, there is concern from the ACLU of Tennessee that some voters could show up to the polls on Election Day just to see their name tossed off the state's voter rolls.

The ACLU says the state is continuing to dump voters off voter rolls who deserve to stay on, and the group says a federal court agrees with it.

The disagreement is between Secretary of State Tre Hargett and the ACLU of Tennessee over a federal law called the National Voter Registration Act.

States across the country -- including Tennessee -- have laws that allow voters to be purged from voter rolls -- making them ineligible to vote.  The laws guard against voters moving away from a certain state, but still remaining on lists of eligible voters in that state.

In September, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down an Ohio law that allowed voters to be purged from the rolls simply for not voting and then not responding to a mailed notice for several years.  The court found that was something federal law banned Ohio from doing.

“They were just assuming, ‘they didn't respond, they didn’t vote, they must have moved,’ and that's not a good reason to take away someone’s rights to vote in an election,” said Thomas Castelli with ACLU of Tennessee.

The ACLU of Tennessee argues Tennessee has a similar law to the Ohio law, which is also covered by the court's ruling.  Both states send a notice after a registered voter hasn't voted in several years, and both states can then remove that voter’s name if they don't respond or vote in several more years.

“The similarity between both of them is that this whole process starts because you don't vote.  You don't exercise your right to vote, and that's the issue the 6th circuit was looking at,” Castelli said.

The court argued that Ohio’s decision to send a confirmation notice, which then starts the countdown clock for voting eligibility before a voter’s name is removed from the rolls, can’t be “triggered” by simply not voting.

In a recent letter, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said he believes Tennessee's voter purging law is "substantially different" from Ohio's, though he declined to explain how.

Hargett also argued that changing the rules after early voting had already started would be a "major disruption" to the state's elections.

The ACLU says it’s worried some voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to find they can't vote. 

“By the time you go to the polls, it’s too late to register to vote because you have to register 30 days before the election,” Castelli said.

The ACLU says voter purging laws like the ones in Ohio and Tennessee disproportionately affect elderly and poor working-class voters.

The ACLU is asking Hargett to allow voters off the rolls to cast provisional ballots.