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The state government was hoping to have the lawsuits against its new voter registration statute dismissed.

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.

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During his State of the Union address this year, President Trump said he would stonewall the legislative process if members of Congress don't play ball, writes Neal.

A year of broken standards for America’s democracy

Neal is federal government affairs manager at R Street Institute, a nonpartisan and pro-free-market public policy research organization.

The term "democratic norms" has become a misnomer over the last year. America's governing institutions are undermined by elected officials who dishonor their offices and each other. Standards of behavior and "normal" processes of governance seem to be relics of a simpler time. Our democracy has survived thus far, but the wounds are many.

Free speech and free press have been the White House's two consistent whipping posts. Comments such as "I think it is embarrassing for the country to allow protestors" and constant attacks on press credibility showcase President Trump's disdain for the pillars of democracy. Traditional interactions between the administration and the press are no longer taken for granted. Demeaning, toxic criticisms have become so common that they're being ignored. As the administration revokes critics' press passes and daily briefings are canceled, normalcy in this arena is sorely missed.

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The founders of Register2Vote, Madeline Eden and Jeremy Smith, preparing registration information for mailing in Texas last year.

After successful Texas debut, tech-based voter registration platform goes national

Having had remarkable success at signing people up to vote in Texas last year, an Austin group of activists is expanding its pilot program into a full-blown national effort to overcome the sometimes ignored first hurdle for people in the voting process — registration.

"There are millions of voters who are registered who don't get out to vote," said Christopher Jasinski, director of partnerships for Register2Vote. "But the unmeasured part of the pie is the actual number of unregistered voters."

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