Lawsuits against Tennessee Voter Registration Law Can Move forward, Federal Judge Rules

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

A “punitive regulatory scheme.”

That’s how a federal judge described a bill passed this year by the Tennessee legislature, which created a series of new mandates for voter registration groups in the state  and the threat of civil and criminal penalties if they don’t comply.

Federal Judge Aleta Trauger issued a ruling Monday that denies the state’s motion to dismiss two lawsuits filed by several civil rights and voter registration organizations, which came promptly after Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law.

The plaintiffs argue the law will hinder voter registration in Tennessee, especially among minority groups.

The lawsuits, which name Secretary of State Tre Hargett, State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins and members of the State Elections Commission as defendants, are seeking declaratory judgment and an injunction prohibiting the law from taking effect.

A statement released by The Equity Alliance, of the plaintiffs that filed suit, says Trauger’s ruling affirms the argument they’ve made all along.

“If additional training is needed, the state should have produced new instructions for groups that believe in the power of voter registration,” said Charlane Oliver, president and co-founder of The Equity Alliance. “The state should be investing its resources in improving our low voter participation rates instead of suppressing voters.