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Tennessee bill stiffens penalties on voter signup group woes

Posted at 3:20 PM, Apr 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-02 19:19:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Groups that help register Tennessee voters could face fines or misdemeanors under new restrictions in a bill advancing through the Legislature.

The voter registration bill on hand was initiated by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Haggert.

The bill requires any group attempting to register people to vote to follow new guidelines including turning in registration forms within 10 days. Groups that turn in at least 100 incomplete forms could face up to a $10,000 civil fine and a criminal misdemeanor.

On Tuesday, members of The Equity Alliance, Tennessee Black Voter Project, Indivisble and local lawmakers opposing the bill spoke at a news conference.

"Every business, every church every non-profit organization that does any level of voter registration should be up in arms about this bill. This is voter suppression," Tequila Johnson said.

Johnson with The Equity Alliance said the bill assesses a civil penalty on groups for doing voter registrations.

"The secretary of state is proposing we increase training, we have someone from the election commission come out and train our trainers on how to train people during voter registration," she said.

In support, state Elections Coordinator Mark Goins pointed to more than 10,000 Shelby County registrations on last year's deadline by the Tennessee Black Voter Project, with many filled out incorrectly.

"If voter registration was difficult I could kind of sympathize with those individuals but everyone understands voter registration is not difficult at all in the state of Tennessee.," Goins said.

Congressman Jim Cooper slammed the bill saying, “As a state that has one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country, we shouldn't make voter registration more complicated. 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."

Republican Rep. Tim Rudd's bill calls for class A misdemeanors if, knowingly or intentionally, workers are paid based on voter-signup quotas; state training isn't completed; or completed voter registration forms aren't shipped within 10 days of registration drives.

Voting rights groups and other opponents deem the bill a voter suppression attempt. They say registration groups ranging from political parties to churches could be harmed.