A federal judge in Tennessee issued a good decision for would-be voters and activists in Tennessee. The court denied the State of Tennessee’s request to dismiss a legal challenge by CLC and partners to a new state law that would restrict and penalize voter registration efforts. This allows the case to proceed. The law, which is scheduled to go into effect on October 1, would impose substantial penalties on groups that foster political participation through voter registration efforts.
The judge noted in her decision that “in the American system of governance, every decision to grant, preserve, or take away a right can be traced back to an election. A change in the composition of the electorate can lead to the change of any law.” She pointed specifically to the continued challenges faced by the state’s voters, as the number of registered voters in Tennessee still lags behind the number of qualified voters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, there were, as of November 2018, approximately 4,872,000 voting-aged citizens in Tennessee, but only about 3,183,000 registered voters. Data from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission ranked Tennessee 44th out of all U.S. states and the District of Columbia in the percentage of its citizen population that was registered to vote.
Tennessee’s law has created the country’s most aggressive penalties for voter registration drives. Now the court will have the opportunity to issue a ruling that prevents the state from unlawfully chilling the efforts of organizations working to get people registered to vote.