Lawsuits by civil rights and voter registration organizations against Tennessee's new restrictions on voter registration groups have been kept alive by a federal judge.
The state government sought to dismiss the two lawsuits, which say mandates enacted this spring by the overwhelmingly Republican legislature will hinder voter registration especially, among minority groups. But this week Judge Aleta Trauger refused and derided the new statute as "a complex and punitive regulatory scheme."
The law makes it a misdemeanor for voter registration groups to pay workers based on quotas, or to enroll more than 100 voters without completing a new regime of government training and paperwork on a tight deadline. Submitting more than 100 incomplete new voter forms is also newly a crime, as is the employment of out-of-state poll watchers.
Beckerman is the founder of Open the Debates, a cross-partisan group that advocates allowing more third party and independent candidates to participate in campaign debates.
Are you sick of our political discourse yet? I know I am.
Are you tired of being trapped in a two-year vortex of nauseating presidential politics every four years?
For better or worse (okay, definitely worse), presidential campaigns capture the energy and attention of voters and leave us feeling powerless to fix a completely broken political system. Candidates that aim to fix the system — think John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — get shut out of the main conversation.
There have been countless efforts to hold the self-proclaimed Commission on Presidential Debates accountable to produce fair and inclusive debates. But it is a private corporation created by the Democratic and Republican parties, and it has the political establishment's blessing to maintain a duopoly on presidential debate participation. The courts, so far, have obliged.
If we are ever going to succeed at opening up the presidential debates to more voices and better choices, we need to do two big things that will take the decision-making out of the hands of some untouchable front-group for the two parties:
Sometime in the next few days, 45-year-old Milton Thomas of Nashville is going to pick up his mail and find something that symbolizes another step in his ongoing journey toward being a productive citizen.
It's his voter registration card.
Thomas lost his right to vote when he was convicted of a drug-related felony – one of an estimated 6 million people nationwide disenfranchised because of felony convictions.
His return to the voting rolls is just one example of a slowly expanding nationwide movement to restore voting rights for convicted felons – one that has sometimes sparked controversy and also made for unusual political alliances.
New polling suggests that the lopsidedly Republican legislature of Tennessee is out of step with the voters on expanding and easing access to the voting booth.
Two out of three people in the state back the idea of automatically registering every eligible voter when they get a driver's licenses or interact with other state agencies, a process now in effect in 15 states. And 74 percent support the restoration of voting rights for Tennesseans with certain felony convictions upon the completion of their sentences.
The statewide poll was conducted by Vanderbilt University, with roughly 1,000 individuals contacted May 9-23.
Legislation to increase the pool of felons who can regain the right to vote in Tennessee, which has one of the nation's strictest policies on the topic, did not get far in the legislature this year. Neither did a bill to institute automatic voter registration. Instead, one of the most high-profile measures enacted this session appears to make Tennessee the first state to impose fines on voter registration groups for turning in too many incomplete or inaccurate signup forms, while also imposing significant new requirements for registration campaigns.