by BriteHeart | 4.16.19
House lawmakers approved a measure that critics said would criminalize voter registration efforts as the largest group of protesters this year gathered at the state Capitol..
The measure, backed by Secretary of State Tre Hargett, would require groups leading voter registration efforts to undergo training and potentially face fines for submitting too many incomplete forms.
Critics of the proposal have questioned its intentions, noting it comes after an effort to register more African American voters and people of color during the 2018 midterm elections.
After two protesters were removed while the chamber considered the bill, the House approved it along party lines, with a 71-26 vote.
Hargett's office has said the bill is needed after thousands of late-filed registration forms created difficulties for local officials, in part because many incomplete documents were filed.
The bill specifically requires groups organizing voter registration drives to undergo training and forces them to hand in completed documents in a timely manner.
The legislation also seeks to assess a civil penalty against groups that turn in more than 100 deficient voter registration applications.
Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, amended the legislation on the floor to limit the ability to assess such penalties against groups.
Mark Goins, the state's elections coordinator, later noted that only groups that had a paid employee who oversaw a voter registration drive could face a penalty.
Goins added if someone turned in more than 100 deficient forms, they could only face a civil penalty.
"No one is going to be liable criminally for turning in a form that lacks information," he said.
Under the bill, a criminal penalty could be assessed if a group leading a registration drive does not take the required training.
As the bill made its way through the legislature, the penalty provision led to significant opposition from voter registration groups, ranging from the League of Women Voters to the Equity Alliance and Tennessee Black Voter Project, which registered thousands of African American voters last year.
As members entered the House chamber on Monday, they were faced with nearly 100 protesters who chanted, "Vote no or you must go."
Speaking to Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, Tequila Johnson, co-founder of the Equity Alliance, said the bill represented voter suppression and racism.
"(This bill) discourages people from volunteering in the Volunteer State," she said.
The group of protesters said those who voted in favor of the legislation would face action at the ballot box.
"We will get you out," Johnson declared. "We will come for your seats."
The protests continued inside the House chamber as members considered the legislation during a lengthy session that at one point was interrupted by someone in the gallery yelling.
Two people were eventually removed by state troopers, who said the protesters were being disruptive.
The majority of the protesters, however, stood silently while waiving signs as the House deliberated.
On Monday afternoon, the governor told reporters the most important thing for him is to ensure the state has free and fair elections and a process that encourages people to engage.
"We'll look and see if this bill does that," Lee said, declining to answer a question on whether there should be more restrictions placed on the voter registration process.
The Senate version of the bill could be taken up in the chamber as early as later this week.
Written by BriteHeart
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