Federal Court blocks Tenn. law restricting voter registration

Just weeks from going into effect, a federal district court judge has temporarily blocked a Tennessee law making it more challenging for civic groups to organize voter registration drives.

The law also would allow criminal charges for people who submitted inaccurate or insufficient voter registration forms. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee challenged the law, and its legal director, Thomas Castelli, says he hopes the ruling sends a message to other states.

“These types of laws are suspect constitutionally, and that trying to follow in Tennessee’s footsteps with enacting laws along these same lines, will get you pretty much in the same position of the wrong end of an order from the court,” said Castelli.

For now, the court has said the state cannot make any efforts to enforce the law, which was originally slated to go into effect on October 1.

House Bill 1079 requires that anyone who wants to help people register to vote has to pre-register those drives with the state, undergo some state-produced training, and submit voter applications within a certain time frame. And the law would have gone further, Castelli added.

“And then, there was another portion of the law that said anyone that’s got a website or is talking publicly about voter registration has to put a disclaimer on it saying that they’re not affiliated with the Secretary of State’s office,” said Castelli.

If the law goes into effect, it would affect people who are already under-represented.

“To the extent that this law is making it harder to register anyone to vote, it is going to have a disproportionate impact on those vulnerable communities, those marginalized communities, by making it harder for those community members to get registered to vote and participate in our democracy,” said Castelli.

The case will head back to the court for a final hearing.