Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is proposing new restrictive regulations and the nations’s most aggressive penalties* for voter registration drives that don’t precisely follow their new regulations — up to a $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.

This kind of law would have a chilling effect on any group trying to engage Tennesseans to vote at a time when Tennessee has been in the bottom five states for voter participation in the last three presidential elections.

In a state with such low voter turnout, we should be legislating reforms that increase voter registration like same-day registration and automatic voter registration through the DMV. Instead, Secretary Hargett’s new regulations will reduce the number of voter registration drives and should alarm any church, any nonprofit or business that registers voters in Tennessee.

*Other states have penalties for failing to turn in forms on time (VA it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor; OH it’s a 5th degree felony) and registering someone under a name other than their own (GA comes with a sentence of 1- 10 years, or a fine up to $100,000 or both). TN appears to be unique in the penalty specific to submitting incomplete forms.

Take Action – Contact Decision Makers

Any decision maker will tell you that the biggest factor in the decisions they make is what their constituents or community care about and are requesting of them. They receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of calls and letters to their offices daily, urging them to support or oppose issues being debated. It’s our job to make sure they hear from us how wrong it is to penalize volunteers and community members for helping register eligible voters.

1. Send an email to committee members in one click

2. Call committee members and your legislators

Steve Dickerson (R) 22 (615) 741-6679
Richard Briggs (R) 7 (615) 741-1766
Todd Gardenhire (R) 10 (615) 741-6682
Brian Kelsey (R) 31 (615) 741-3036
Dawn White (R) 13 (615) 741-6853
Ed Jackson (R) 27 (615) 741-1810
Shane Reeves (R) 14 (615) 741-1066
Ken Yager (R) 12 (615) 741-1449
Jeff Yarbro (D) 21 (615) 741-3291

Find your decision makers: 

Before you ask others to call, be sure to do it yourself. Your voice is just as important, and having already completed the process will make it easier to explain it to others. You can simply urge them to not support this bill, give them your information, and be done with the call in under two minutes.

SAMPLE PHONE BANK SCRIPT

Hi, my name is [NAME] and I live in [COUNTY/DISTRICT].

I’m a constituent, and I’m calling to express how dangerous HB1079/SB971 is and its restrictive measures. It is wrong to penalize volunteers and community members for helping register voters to vote. [Explain why this is important to you personally and your community.]

Can I count on you to be actively vocal against HB1079/SB971? [WAIT FOR RESPONSE]

[IF YES:] Great! Thank you so much for your support! How will you be voicing your opposition publicly or helping stop this bad piece of legislation?

[IF NO:] I’m sorry to hear that. Again, I’d like to strongly urge you to reconsider, because constituents like me are strongly against this dangerous bill.

Please stay in touch with me about your position on this bill.

SAMPLE EMAIL OR POSTCARD LANGUAGE  to copy / paste

I am writing to urge you vote against SB0971/HB1079 an extreme measure that creates restrictive regulations for voter engagement. If passed, this would create the country’s most aggressive penalties for voter registration drives, creating a chilling effect on any group, including churches and nonprofits, trying to register Tennessee voters. It is wrong to penalize volunteers and community members for helping to promote civic engagement.

At a time when our state has one of the country’s lowest voter participation rates, we should be looking for ways to promote voter engagement not suppress it. We know our communities and our state are stronger when more citizens are engaged and voting. I urge you to vote NO on SB0971/HB1079 and keep voter registration legal in Tennessee.

3. Ask 5 friends & family to ask to join you

In order to ensure the voices of our community are loud, clear and representative, please invite at least five friends, family members, or other community members who have helped to register voters to call or email along with you.

  • Give clear instructions. Forward this email or post this link for info.
  • Make it personal. Explain why this is important to you and encourage them to talk about why they care as well. It will be easier for folks to get their point across over the phone if they’ve already discussed it in person with you.

4. Share this call to action on social media

Sample Tweets / Instagram posts

  • My Tennessee is the Volunteer State, not the state that leads on penalizing voter registration drives. @SecTreHargett OPPOSE HB1079/SB971 #TNLeg #TNBlackVoterProject
  • We should be making it easier to be a voter — not harder to show up for a voter registration drive. @SecTreHargett OPPOSE HB1079/SB971 #TNLeg #TNBlackVoterProject
  • Penalizing anyone for a mistake they didn’t make is wrong. No penalties for voter registration drives. @SecTreHargett OPPOSE HB1079/SB971 #TNLeg #TNBlackVoterProject

Hashtags & Handles

#TNLeg

#ProtectVoterRegistrationTN

@SecTreHargett — (Tennessee Secretary of State)

Get Smart #GetCivic House Bill 1079/Senate Bill 971

Sponsors: Sen. Ed Jackson, R-Jackson, and Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro

As amended, would change state law to:

  • Require training for persons conducting voter registrations for over 100 people
  • Prohibit paying organizers for each voter registration
  • Require applications be submitted within 10 days
  • Allow the State Election Commission to fine people or organizations that submit numerous deficient forms.

Key points to consider: 

  • Not Right for the Volunteer State: This bill would effectively prohibit volunteer voter registration drives due to concerns about criminal and civil liability, leaving voter engagement only to expensive, politically-connected operations.

  • Training Requirements Will Hurt Rural Areas, Businesses, Churches: Without any clarity about the frequency of training, length, opportunities in rural communities, this new burden will likely impede registration drives. A similar requirement in Texas has effectively prohibited voter registration drives by businesses and many community groups who cannot require their officers and multiple staff go through an onerous training for one-day events.

  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place: This bill imposes criminal and civil penalties due to errors on forms but voter registration drives are also liable for not turning the forms in.

  • Outdated, Incomplete Voter Rolls: Tennessee has among the lowest rates of voter registrations and updates of any state in the US. The legislature and secretary of state should be focused on ensuring that our voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date, not making it harder for eligible voters to keep their information updated.

  • Prohibition on Data Entry of Voter Information Hurts People With Disabilities: This prohibition could limit access to any online voter registration tool built by a third party group that captures data, even though these tools are generally better for people with disabilities.

  • Expensive New Bureaucracy: This bill does not yet have a fiscal note but we know that the new training, oversight, and civic police program required to enforce it will cost taxpayers big money to solve a non-existent problem.

  • Better Options for Voter Privacy: This bill’s well-intentioned efforts to protect voter privacy would be better addressed by moving Tennessee in-line with other states that only require last 4 digits of SSN to register rather than the full 9 digit number that threatens identity theft of voters.

  • Better Options for Election Integrity: Rather than making it harder for voters to keep their information up-to-date, Tennessee should update its practices to automatically update registrations as voters move and ensure eligible voters are on the rolls.

Read Rep. Cooper’s recently statements against the bill

Where are we at in the process? Legislative path for House Bill 1079/Senate Bill 971

Tuesday, April 9, 10:30am

Senate State & Local Government Committee – Location: Senate Hearing Room 1

Senate committee will vote. Please contact Senator Dickerson at 615.308.3611 or email stevedickersontn@gmail.com

LAST WEEK:

Wednesday, April 3, 2 pm

House Local Committee – Location: House Hearing I

*If there is a fiscal note attached to the amendment, the bill will be routed to Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee. Otherwise, it will advance to Calendar and Rules to be scheduled for a House Floor vote the following week.

Tuesday, April 2, 10:30am

Senate State & Local Government Committee – Location: Senate Hearing Room 1

Sen. Ed Jackson introduced the bill to members of the Senate committee for a vote. Action was deferred in the Senate State & Local Government committee to — probably — April 9.

Tuesday, April 2, 9:30am

House Local Committee Bill Review – Location: HHR 5

A public meeting where committee members discussed the bill openly with the Secretary of State’s office.

Tuesday, April 2, 10:30am

Senate State & Local Government Committee – Location: Senate Hearing Room 1

Sen. Ed Jackson introduced the bill to members of the Senate committee for a vote. Action was deferred in the Senate State & Local Government committee to — probably — April 9.

 

About Voter Suppression

  • Being a voter is a fundamental right guaranteed to Americans.
  • Every Tennessean who is eligible to vote ought to be a voter.
  • Civic participation strengthens our communities — and our state.
  • We should be making it easier — not harder — for people to vote, especially in communities that have faced barriers to voting in the past.
  • Whether its voter ID, closing polling sites or discouraging voter registration, voter suppression is shameful political tactic.
  • These suppression tactics disproportionately affect low-income Tennesseans and communities of color.
  • Every act of suppression threatens the right of Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights  and hold their representatives accountable.

Our state benefits when more citizens vote:

Thanks to our friends at Equity AllianceTN Black Voter ProjectTIRRCLeague of Women Voters and CivicTN for organizing this information.

Artivist image: Kayla Jones, courtesy of Amplifier