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Proposed new rules are confusing and vague and would deter groups from helping others register to vote through harsh criminal and civil penalties

WASHINGTON, DC – A collective of national civil and voting rights organizations sent a letter to the Tennessee General Assembly asking them to reject bill SB971/HB1079 that would create burdensome requirements, threatening civil and criminal penalties for individuals and groups conducting voter registration drives. The bill, scheduled for a vote in the House Monday, will intimidate groups from conducting community-based drives to avoid the risk of being subject to the bill’s severe penalties.

In a state that struggles with voter registration and turnout, leaders should look for ways to encourage activities like voter registration drives, but these new restrictions will have the exact opposite effect.

The letter outlines several issues that make this bill a threat to efforts to make democracy more accessible to all Americans. The language used in the bill is vague and makes it unclear who must follow the requirements—for example, it heavily penalizes voter registration drives for handing in registration forms “deemed deficient” without explaining clearly who is subject to the rule and what would considered a “deficient” form, and it adds poorly-defined criminal penalties for honest mistakes. Tennessee’s criminal laws already protect voters and prohibit voter registration fraud, making these vague, onerous new restrictions unnecessary.

The bill also requires state-sponsored training without ensuring groups can actually participate, another provision with the threat of criminal prosecution. As written, this bill has no requirement that training be made available on any schedule or timeframe, or that it be made available on-demand online or otherwise.

In the letter, the organizations encouraged policymakers to “instead focus on modernizing Tennessee’s registration and election administration to promote participation and bring more eligible citizens into our democracy.”

The letter sent to the Tennessee General Assembly can be found here. Signers include:

  • ACLU
  • American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • Arab American Institute
  • Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
  • Disability Rights Tennessee
  • Fair Elections Center
  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • League of Women Voters of the United States
  • National Disability Rights Network
  • NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
  • Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Tennessee State Conference NAACP
  • Transformative Justice Coalition
  • UFCW Minority Coalition

You can view the letter written by the Lawyers’ Committee here

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

Reynolds Graves, Lawyers’ Committee,, 202-662-8375