Voter Issues

APRIL 2020


• Tennessee: In a surprising reversal, Tennessee Republicans have passed a law that repeals certain parts of a 2019 law that they had enacted to add criminal and civil penalties to key parts of voter registration drives, which a federal court had temporarily blocked last September as likely to infringe upon voters' constitutional rights. Republicans passed this 2019 law after organizers registered tens of thousands of new black voters in 2018, since black voters are more likely to be registered through such drives.

For those who had registered 100 or more voters, the law had made it a crime to do so without completing a state training course. It also made it a crime to fail to submit completed forms within 10 days. At the same time, groups that submitted 100 or more incomplete or inaccurate registration forms would have faced civil fines, which could have reached a steep $10,000 per county (Tennessee has 99 counties) if more than 500 such forms were found to have been submitted in a given county.

However, the revised law still includes a measure to make registration drives less effective by making it a crime to pay workers based on the number of registrations they gather. Instead, organizers would have to pay hourly or rely on volunteers, which eliminates the financial incentive for registration drive workers to register as many voters as they can during their shifts.

Repealing the challenged parts of this law will likely render the litigation over it moot. By capitulating in this manner, Republicans have now signaled their own doubts about their prospects for success in court.

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