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VIDEO: Tequila Johnson On Sec. Hargett’s Voter Reg Criminalization Bill

Federal court just BLOCKED Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s “SCHEME” to criminalize voter registration after the Tennessee Black Voter Project registered 90,000. Tequila Johnson of The Equity Alliance tells us they were told to turn in every form, and she wasn’t allowed to testify.

“This was about holding onto power.”

Check out the full PODCAST INTERVIEW on ITUNES.

BLOCKED! Sec. Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization Bill Blocked By Federal Court

Today a federal court has blocked the unprecedented Tennessee law passed this past session that restricts voter registration drives, subjecting people to unprecedented civil and even criminal penalties simply for turning in insufficient voter registration forms.

The bill was pushed through the Tennessee legislature by Secretary of State Tre Hargett after the Tennessee Black Voter Project registered over 90,000 people in 2018.

A judge had just struck down Hargett’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed by voter registration groups earlier this week, undressing the bill as a naked attempt to suppress the vote. READ OUR POST about that HERE, where we went into the back story of the ugly law. In that ruling, Judge Trauger echoed many of the criticisms levied against the bill when it was being debated in the legislature.

This was a big win for the voting rights groups.

Here’s the federal court’s opinion in its entirety. A win for democracy. Hopefully it will hold.

“[T]hat voting is the ‘political right . . . preservative of all rights,’ is not just a comforting aphorism; it reflects … that, in the American system of governance, every decision to grant, preserve, or take away a right can be traced … back to an election.”

MOTION DENIED: Lawsuit Against Sec. Tre Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization “SCHEME” Allowed to Proceed

A federal judge today said a lawsuit from the League of Women Voters, the American Muslim Advisory Council, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Rock the Vote, Memphis Central Labor Council, and Headcount challenging Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s new voter registration criminalization bill – which passed this past session despite outcries from protestors about the constitutionality – is allowed to proceed, striking down Hargett’s motion to dismiss the suit.

The bill came on the heels of the Tennessee Black Voter Project registering over 90,000 voters in 2018, a fact Hargett insisted had no bearing on his decision to push it through. A likely story.


U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger expressed much skepticism of Hargett’s bill in the decision, essentially pointing to all the things those who spoke out against the bill warned about during discussion of the bill in the legislative session, including the chilling effect it would have on voter registration efforts.

As Judge Trauger says:

“Restricting voter registration drives in order to try to preserve election commission resources is like poisoning the soil in order to have an easier harvest.”

She wondered about some key elements of the bill, for instance why people who are getting paid to registered voters should be subject to requirements those working for free would not be subject to:

“The Act’s two-tiered system both lack justification in its own right and undermines any claim that its provisions are truly necessary.”

Judge Trauger also says there is “no basis for requiring registration workers and volunteers mandatory government training.”

She went on to talk about the punishments leveled by the bill against registration workers, saying that it “punishes a person for doing too much of something it requires them to do” by essentially requiring them to turn in forms even if they’re incomplete – something many, including Senator Jeff Yarbro, pointed out during committee.

Judge Trauger notes that the punishment for turning incomplete forms is not levied on a % basis, but on a total basis of over 100 incomplete forms, which means “the result is The Act holds an organization to an increasingly more onerous standard the more effective it is at recruiting new voters.”

Which is likely EXACTLY the intention of the bill.

The Bill also imposes an additional penalty in each county where the violation occurred, which Judge Trauger pointed out is especially onerous and flies in the face of the interest of the state in actually registering voters.

That assumes the state is actually trying to register MORE voters, but more and more it seems Tennessee is perfectly fine being at the very bottom in voter turnout and voter registration.

Judge Trauger then points out how vulnerable these voter registrations are financially, since they are not backed by large and wealthy institutions, and says that the grand total of the penalties amounts to them being “attacked from all sides.”

She calls it a “complex and punitive regulatory scheme”, instead suggesting public education rather than an “intrusive prophylactic scheme true bad actors would likely evade regardless.”

At the end, Judge Trauger uses the exact language used by opponents of the bill to allow the suit to continue, pointing out that it will have a “chilling effect” on voter registration – which we have heard from groups registering voters in Tennessee is happening already.

Here’s the ruling in its entirety

Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization Bill Passes TN House Despite Protests | TN Holler

Despite protests, yesterday Tennessee House Republicans passed HB 1079 – which would make it the first state to criminalize voter registration efforts… just 6 months after the Tennessee Black Voter Project registered 90,000.

The vote was 71-26, with Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against.

Watch the VIDEO:

Here’s our previous article about the topic.

SB 971 now awaits a vote in the senate. Holler at your state senators, Governor Lee, or Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

VIDEO: Sec. Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization Extravanganza (HIGHLIGHTS)

In 2018, the Tennessee Black Voter Project set out to register 55,000 voters – and ended up registering close to 90,000.

Now Secretary of State Tre Hargett has a bill – HB 1079/SB 971 – which would criminalize voter registration efforts, with fines and penalties for mistakes on forms, and potential criminal punishment for turning forms in with deficiencies, or not getting the “proper” training.

It would be the first of its kind in the country.

The bill passed a senate committee this week, despite opposition from Senators Jeff Yarbro and Steve Dickerson.

Watch the HIGHLIGHTS:

Dickerson was concerned that the bill sought to punish people for mistakes, pointing out that it’s already illegal to submit fraudulent forms.

Yarbro made the point that most registration groups feel they’re required to turn in even incomplete forms, so to punish them for doing what they’re compelled to do by law would be unfair.

Yarbro was by far the most vocal in opposition.

He also pointed out that there’s a standard amount of deficiencies according to federal statistics, and this bill would end up punishing pretty much any large-scale voter registration drives as a result. He also reminded the committee that the proposed penalties are harsher than some violent crimes.

The Holler spoke with Tequila Johnson, one of the driving forces behind the Tennessee Black Voter project, who confirmed the group was in fact under the impression that they were required to turn in any forms voters had touched, and had been advised to do just that. She also said they took careful measures for quality control purposes, and adamantly insisted they did not pay per form, which is what Election Coordinator Mark Goins said the bill intended to put a stop to.

Johnson says the Black Voter Project attempted to reach out to Hargett’s office even before the project for guidance, but were turned down. Instead they met with local election commissions who told them to turn in any forms that voters even partially filled out.

Johnson:

“We were careful. We didn’t want anything to jeopardize the integrity of the project… mistakes happened, but not at the scale they’re talking about. They’re taking a few times it happened and highlighting it to mischaracterize the whole project.”

Johnson says she tried to go and testify, but nobody would return her calls.

“I reached out several times. Nobody would return my calls. People don’t respect black organizers… I’m from Tennessee, bred and buttered. I’m used to their attempts to limit access. It’s just another hoop to have to jump through. Bring it on. I’m sure this bill will discourage some people, but it won’t be me.”

Johnson insists nobody was paid per form but by the hour. This was a major sticking point for Goins, who was there on behalf of Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Goins offered no proof to the contrary, but instead used a statement from a worker who said they were told to “register everyone and not take no for an answer”, as well as another from a man whose wife had been deceased when she was registered.

As for the 55% deficiency number cited by Goins at the hearing, we have reached out to ask where that comes from. It appears to come from this article about Shelby county registrations, but the number in that article does not apply to all 30,000 new forms, and does not get specific about how many new registrations were seemingly fraudulent vs. just deficient.

Secretary Tre Hargett told us this week that it is “not true” the bill is retaliatory against black voters in nature, but Tequila Johnson remains unconvinced and says they knew this was coming:

“We knew there would be backlash even when we named it the Black Voter Project. But we have to not be afraid to stand in our truth. Our ancestors survived a lot worse. I’d be a damn coward to back out now.”

She also says this shouldn’t be a partisan issue:

“I have Republican Friends. I registered Republicans personally. People with confederate flags, Trump stickers… this isn’t just about black or brown, or Republican or Democrat – it’s about access. It’s about power and money. But I do feel like people don’t respect black organizations in this city. ‘Equity’ is just a buzz word to them.”

And went on to stress that The Tennessee Black Voter Project is not some behemoth organization:

“We’re 100% volunteer-led. We don’t have a full-time staff. Hargett’s yearly salary is more than we’ve ever raised. We figured out how to do what he should be doing.”

Tennessee regularly ranks near the bottom in voter turnout.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) says this about Hargett’s bill:

“This bill would have a chilling effect on voter registration in Tennessee. It punishes Good Samaritans… The idea of punishing this virtuous behavior is absurd.”

If you think Tennessee should be making it easier to register to vote, not harder, Holler at Secretary of State Tre Hargett HERE.

EMAIL: tre.hargett@tn.gov

VIDEO: Sec. Hargett’s Voter Registration Criminalization Bill Press Conference

In 2018, the Tennessee Black Voter Project set out to register 55,000 voters – and ended up registering close to 90,000.

Now Secretary of State Tre Hargett has introduced a seemingly retaliatory bill which would criminalize voter registration efforts, with fines and penalties for mistakes on forms, and potential criminal punishment for registering too many people or not getting the “proper” training:

“Republican Rep. Tim Rudd’s bill HB 1079 (SB 971) calls for class A misdemeanors if, knowingly or intentionally, groups that register 100 or more people pay workers based on voter-registration quotas, don’t complete state training, or fail to ship completed voter registration forms within 10 days of registration drives or by the voter registration deadline.”

Watch the press conference with Tequila Johnson and Charlane Oliver of The Equity Alliance, Aftyn Behn of Indivisible, Reverend James Turner, Reps Gloria Johnson, Vincent Dixie, John Ray Clemmons, Bob Freeman, and State Senator Brenda Gilmore HERE:

Tequila Johnson, co-founder of the Equity Alliance says:

“This bill from Secretary of State Tre Hargett is an attack on the Tennessee Voter Project and its success.”

Tennessee regular ranks near the bottom in voter turnout, which Senator Brenda Gilmore reminds us is in no small part because of a voter suppression/voter ID bill which passed in 2008 (after Obama was elected).

Aftyn Behn of Indivisible lists the ways in which this bill seeks to criminalize voter engagement.

Charlane Oliver of Equity Alliance and Rep. Jim Cooper’s office points to all the ways the vote is suppressed in Tennessee – including by the registration form itself, and Reps. Johnson, Dixie, and Freeman all make it clear they’ll be voting against the bill, which Freeman calls an effort to “intimidate” voter registration groups.

Reverend Turner also reminds us that many people bled for the right to vote, particularly African-Americans, and that this is a step in the wrong direction.

“It seems like it’s racist. It seems like we’re going back in time.”

If you think Tennessee should be making it easier to register to vote, not harder, Holler at Secretary of State Tre Hargett HERE.

EMAIL: tre.hargett@tn.gov