Tennessee state legislators want to add a new trick to its Jim Crow voter suppression playbook that could rival Georgia’s racist efforts that most recently proved successful during last year’s pivotal midterm elections.
In a 71-26 party-line vote, the state’s House approved a measure on Monday that would create restrictions on groups that hold voter registration drives and subject them to potential jail time and fines, the Tennessean reported. The bill is now winding its way through the state Senate.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett claimed the law seeks to preserve the integrity of the election process. But opponents said they believe it was created to target African-Americans after there was a surge in Black voter registration in 2018.
“(This bill) discourages people from volunteering in the Volunteer State,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder of the Equity Alliance, one of several voter advocacy groups that protested the bill on Monday.
The legislation would put up roadblocks that would discourage traditional voter registration efforts at churches and other places.
“An organization registering 100 or more people would have to: provide the county elections coordinator with contact information for the people conducting the drive, notify the coordinator about where the drive is being held, complete voter registration training through the elections coordinator and file a sworn statement stating it’ll abide by all voter registration laws and procedures,” according to CNN.
Failure to comply could result in a criminal penalty.
Under another provision, individuals or organizations that submit 100 to 500 “deficient” voter registration applications could receive a fine ranging from $150 to $2,000. Submitting more than 500 “deficient” forms could result in a fine of up to $10,000.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the U.S. House were investigating Georgia’s voter suppression efforts in November.
In March, The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and his secretary of state successor Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, to turn over documents related to the elections.
Kemp as Georgia secretary of state oversaw his own race for governor, which was close but ended in defeat for Stacey Abrams. There was damning evidence that pointed to Kemp using a variety of voter suppression tactics to target Black voters in particular. Abrams was competing to become the nation’s first Black woman governor.
Kemp found himself in the middle of a firestorm before Election Day when the Associated Press reported his office had placed more than 53,000 voter registration applications on hold—about 70 percent of them from African-Americans. He also faced multiple lawsuits, including one from a group of voting rights organizations accusing him of using a racially-biased method to purge the names of about 700,000 voters from the rolls. And on Election Day, predominantly African-American urban districts encountered lots of problems at the polls.
Some academics joined activists in criticizing Tennessee’s suppression effort.
“You don’t jail people for trying to politically participate in a democratic way unless you have other motives,” Sekou Franklin, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University, told CNN.