Tennessee Republicans are currently working to pass a Kafkaesque bill that would heavily restrict organizers’ ability to conduct voter registration drives by imposing criminal and civil penalties that could rear their heads at many different points during the process of signing citizens up to vote.
The bill would first require those conducting registration drives to undergo a training course from the secretary of state's office, making it a crime not to do so. But how do you even take such a course? Its contents aren’t defined in any way, and it’s not even clear when and where it would be offered.
And that’s not the only perverse provision. The GOP’s legislation would also criminalize any failure to submit a voter registration form to the state within 10 days after it’s signed. At the same time, it would also assess heavy civil fines on those who submit more than 100 inaccurate forms. Organizers would therefore be utterly damned if they do or if they don’t: If they collect forms they know to be inaccurate, they’ll risk criminal penalties if they don’t turn them in and civil penalties if they do.
Taken together, these provisions are designed to intimidate groups into abandoning registration drives out of fear they’ll be fined or prosecuted. Tennessee already has one of the lowest turnout rates of any state, and this bill would only further exacerbate the problem. Tennessee Republicans hold massive majorities in both legislative chambers, and they have already passed the bill in one state House committee, so there’s a good chance these measures will become law.
Fortunately, the Campaign Legal Center, an organization that regularly wages litigation to protect voting rights, has pointed out in a letter to Tennessee legislators that a federal court struck down a similar law in Florida in 2012. It’s therefore likely that a lawsuit will follow if Tennessee Republicans pass this proposal.