Federal Judge Blocks Tennessee’s Restrictive Voter Registration Law

By: - September 12, 2019 12:00 am

A federal judge Thursday blocked a new Tennessee law that sought to curb voter registration drives. C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP

A federal judge Thursday blocked a new Tennessee law that would criminalize certain aspects of mass voter registration drives.

The law, which was set to go into effect next month, included criminal and financial penalties for turning in error-filled forms or failing to register with the state and undergo training.

In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger wrote the new law is not “truly necessary” in making sure voter registration is done properly. The law, she wrote, would have a “chilling effect” on political participation.

The new law, she added, “creates an onerous and intrusive regulatory structure for problems that, insofar as they are not wholly speculative, can be addressed with simpler, less burdensome tools.”

Tennessee’s law had nonprofits and voting rights activists scrambling ahead of the 2020 presidential election, as they attempted to understand the new regulations and avoid potential jail time. Several Tennessee voting rights activists interviewed by Stateline called the law blatant “voter suppression.”

The state argued the law was a necessary cost-saving measure to avoid dealing with error-laden registration forms, which they say plagued the 2018 midterm elections. A coalition of groups led by the nonprofit Tennessee Black Voter Project accumulated 91,000 applications in a statewide voter registration drive ahead of the midterms.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.