Cooper Attacks State Voter Suppression Bill

Apr 9, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) issued a statement on a bill that passed through a second legislative committee in the Tennessee General Assembly today.  The bill, HB1079/SB0971, backed by Secretary of State Tre Hargett, would require individuals and organizations registering 100 or more people to vote to follow new guidelines or face prosecution.  Tennessee would become the first state to subject citizens to civil or criminal penalties resulting from deficiencies – even minor deficiencies – on voter registration forms.

“This bill would have a chilling effect on voter registration in Tennessee. It punishes Good Samaritans. Would you want to help people register to vote if you could face nearly a year in prison or a $10,000 fine? The idea of punishing this virtuous behavior is absurd,” Rep. Cooper said.

An amendment was introduced to clarify that the penalties would not apply to organizations using volunteers, but Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins admitted the penalties would apply to businesses and organizations that have paid staff who help with the voter registration process, or that receive grants to help with voter registration drives. That means that most, if not all, of the organizations the amendment claims to exempt would actually be subject to the penalties.

“If this bill passes, Tennessee will be the only state in the country to subject its residents to civil or criminal penalties for what are often minor defects in voter registration forms, such as a missing salutation. It’s wrong to threaten Boy Scouts and the League of Women Voters with jail time if they don’t get their voter registration forms filled out correctly. Tennessee should be in the national spotlight for improving voting, not voter suppression. The big question is, with over a million eligible, unregistered voters in Tennessee, and a state often ranking 50th in voter participation, why is the legislature making it harder to get more people to vote?”

The House version passed the Local Committee last week and has been referred to the Calendar and Rules Committee. The Senate version, passed today in the State and Local Government Committee, is expected to move to the Senate floor for a vote in the next couple of weeks.