Federal Judge Weighs in on Voter Registration Practices

This article was originally published in WMC5 on September 9, 2019.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Monday a federal judge weighed in on how Tennesseeans can register people to vote.

At issue is a state law penalizing groups if too many voters sign up with incorrect information.

This all started last year when a slew of paid workers with the Tennessee Black Voter Project turned in thousands upon thousands of voter registration forms. The effort overwhelmed election offices across the state.

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed days after the legislature passed the new law says the new voter registration law is just another form of voter suppression.

Judge Aleta Trauger of the Middle Tennessee District has allowed the lawsuit to move forward.

Dr. Earle Fisher founder of Up the Vote 9-0-1 praised Judge Trauger’s decision to deny a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a number of organizations such as the ”Tennessee State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P,” “Equity Alliance” and “The Andrew Goodman Foundation.”

“As we lean into early voting in Memphis this week, this ruling confirms our concern that entities charged with protecting our rights seem more committed to infringing on them,” said Fisher.

The new law requires paid workers to go through training, turn in voter registration forms within 10 days of receiving them and if paid workers turn in 100 or more deficient forms than they could face penalties.

“Again it only applies to groups that are being paid, so if you’re a volunteer and you want to have a voter registration drive at your church, your school, or your neighborhood, it doesn’t apply to you,” says Shelby County Elections administrator Linda Phillips.

Phillips says the law doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1, but Fisher says they are seeing some affects already. People are fearing backlash from the new law.

“Just anything involved in the process of getting more people engaged and get them to turn-out now there is some pause you have to consider. It might be a by-product of legislation like this,” said Fisher.

Phillips says voter registration is slower than she expected for this upcoming election.

We asked if she thought it was a result of the recently passed law and Phillips said, “I hope not. I don’t think so.”

“So to my way of thinking, the law says if you’re being paid to do a job, you need to take the training and do the job correctly,” said Phillips.

WMC reached out to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, but we were told they do not comment on pending legislation.

We also reached out to the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, but we have not heard back.