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.
Conservatives on the House Local Committee killed a measure that would allow Tennesseans who qualify to vote by mail to do so immediately after receiving a voter registration card.
There are 14 qualifications in Tennessee for a voter to be eligible for absentee voting by mail, such as: voter is over 60 years old; voter is physically disabled or ill; or voter is a member of the military.
Under current law, those who qualify to vote absentee by mail must first vote in person. That rule could create issues for many new Tennesseans or newly eligible voters.
Hypothetically, if an 19-year-old Tennessean, who registered to vote, joined the military and was placed out of state before participating in an election, the 19-year-old would not be allowed to vote by mail. Or if a home-ridden person moved to Tennessee, the same result would apply.
When Rep. Love presented the legislation to the Calendar and Rules Committee, the committee chairman Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, District 14, opened the discussion by addressing House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin. Casada quickly re-directed to Rep. Love and inferred that they had spoken about an amendment.
So rather than getting scheduled for a floor vote, Rep. Love offered, seemingly at the behest of Speaker Casada, to move the bill back to House Local Committee to attach an amendment prohibiting college IDs as a valid voter ID — which is already state law.
On April 10 in the Local Committee, Rep. Love thanked committee members and Speaker Casada for allowing him to get the legislation in “proper form.”
While there is no smoking gun where Speaker Casada says he opposed the bill, the parliamentary procedure he appears to have orchestrated killed the bill.
How they voted: House Local Committee, April 10 Representatives voting against the bill (voice vote):
Rep. Dave Wright, R-Corryton, District 19
Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, District 12
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, District 29
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, District 11
Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, District 30
Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, District 8
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, District 20
Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisberg, District 92
Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, District 31
Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, District 32
Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, District 1
Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, District 34
Democratic members of the committee signaled support for the bill.
Any member may ask the clerk to record their opposition vote when voice votes prevail.
https://tnholler.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/crawford-header.jpg506968Staffhttps://tnholler.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/TN-Hollerv5-300x172.pngStaff2019-04-11 16:35:192019-04-11 16:35:19TN GOP Nixes Voting by Mail for Newly Registered Disabled, Elderly, Military
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.
“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.
“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.