Judge allows suits against 'punitive' new registration rules in Tennessee
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.
If the state "is concerned that the drives are being done fraudulently — for example, by a person or organization collecting forms and never turning them in — it can punish the fraud rather than subjecting everyone else to an intrusive prophylactic scheme that true bad actors would likely evade regardless," said Trauger, named to the bench by President Clinton two decades ago.
State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told the Nashville Tennessean the law is the first in the country to criminalize the submitting incomplete registration forms. The state, which has been reliably GOP for years, ranks 44th in voter registration, but saw a surge in advance of a hotly contested Senate race last year won by Republican Marsha Blackburn.
A top issue on the democracy reform agenda — protecting elections against both disinformation and cyber hacking — is getting some unusual attention this week in the Democratic presidential campaign.
Amy Klobuchar, arguably at the top of the second tier of candidates given her rising support in Iowa, went to Atlanta on Monday to highlight her efforts in the Senate to enhance election security and to unveil some additional proposals.
The choice of location made sense for two reasons. She and nine other Democrats will meet in the city Wednesday night for their latest in a series of debates where the governing system's problems have so far received short shrift. And Georgia has emerged as the most prominent state where bolstering voting rights and election integrity have become a top priority of the Democratic establishment.
The latest effort to ease restrictions on voting through litigation is a challenge to Mississippi's requirement that naturalized citizens show proof of their citizenship when they register.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, says the law is unconstitutional because it violates of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause by treating one category of citizens differently from another. People born in the United States need only check a box on the state's registration form attesting they are citizens.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helped bring the suit, says Mississippi is the only state with a unique mandate for would-be voters who were not born American citizens.