Within 30 days and with minimal debate, the Tennessee General
Assembly today swiftly passed legislation to criminalize the voter
registration process, making our state the first in the nation to
assess civil and criminal penalties on individuals and organizations
who conduct voter registration drives.
On the heels of one of the state’s most successful voter registration
campaigns aimed at registering black and brown citizens, this law
is blatantly racist and mirrors the Jim Crow-era intimidation used to
stifle decades of progress our nation and our state has made to
ensure voting rights for people of color.
As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose core mission strives
to make our democracy more inclusive, it is evident that our state
leaders want to further disenfranchise poor, black, and brown
This groundbreaking law puts handcuffs on our state’s ability to rise above our low voter participation rates, but we will find new, creative ways to continue registering voters.
Monday, April 15 4:00 p.m. CT Tennessee State Capitol 600 Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd., Nashville, TN 37243
Please arrive at 3:45 pm CT. We will begin the rally shortly after. We will then walk to the House Chambers to let our state legislators know to oppose HB1079 before the floor vote at 5 p.m.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is proposing new restrictions and penalties for voter registration drives in Tennessee.
Secretary Hargett’s proposal would create restrictive regulations and the country’s most aggressive penalties* for voter registration drives that don’t precisely follow their new regulations — up to a $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.
Although we have numerous concerns about specific provisions of the bill, we believe that, if enacted, the overall effect of the bill will be to deter third-party individuals and groups from engaging in constitutionally protected activity of helping others vote. It is the combination of seemingly innocuous preregistration requirements such as preregistration, training, certifying that one will obey the law, providing tracking numbers for mailing of registration forms, ensuring that there are no “deficient” forms—in the context of potentially draconian criminal and civil penalties—that will have a chilling effect on voter registration drives. The bill’s text and application are overbroad, confusing, ambiguous, and worst of all needlessly intimidating. Even with Representative Rudd’s proposed amendment that exempts unpaid individuals and groups registering voters from the bill’s requirements, the bill threatens to punish community members, faith groups, and civic organizations that, in good faith, lawfully run drives that register eligible voters who otherwise would not have registered.
ACT NOW! On Monday, April 15th, the full House of Representatives will be voting on HB1079 (Rudd), which seeks to impose restrictive regulations on organizations and community volunteers doing voter registration drives. If passed, this would create the country’s most aggressive penalties for voter registration drives that don’t follow the new regulations – up to $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.
At a time when our state has one of the country’s lowest voter participation rates, Tennessee should be looking for ways to encourage voter engagement – not suppress it. Instead of fighting for reforms that actually increase voter participation, like same-day registration and automatic voter registration at the DMV, this bill would penalize voter registration drives.
Will you take 1 minute to send a message to the committee members and urge them to keep voter registration legal in TN by voting NO on SB0971(Jackson)/HB1079(Rudd)?
Here is The Equity Alliance toolkit. It has talking points, messaging, event info on the Tuesday press conference, a link to the call to action tool to email all elected officials on the state and local committee, sample phone scripts and phone numbers for all legislators!
felony conviction is life changing, and that’s putting it mildly. Imprisonment,
restitution, and stigma are almost insurmountable obstacles for a formerly
incarcerated person. The ways in which a conviction of this magnitude disrupts
one’s life does not conclude at the end of a jail sentence or probation. Some
states strip away the opportunity to own a gun, to travel out of the country, to
work for certain employers, or to receive public assistance such as housing or
grants for higher education.
many ways, the most egregious of these losses is the loss of the right to vote.
Voting provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless. It ensures that the will of
the people gets reflected in the laws and policies that dictate everything from
school funding and sidewalks to tax reform and anti-discrimination in public
incarcerated individuals who have arguably been among the most affected by the
decisions of elected officials are cut off from the very process that protects
their interests. In Tennessee, more than 421,000 people have completed their
sentences and, while they go to work, pay taxes and contribute to their
communities in a number of meaningful ways, they are denied access to the
voting booth. Tennessee has the fourth highest disenfranchisement rate in the
country and consistently ranks last in voter participation. Voter suppression
and other tactics make it difficult to vote in Tennessee. Most concerning are
the well-known statistics surrounding the incarceration rates for people of
color and the affect that has on these communities. According to the Federal
Bureau of Prisons, 37% of all federally incarcerated individuals are
African-American, an astounding figure considering that African-Americans make
up only 13% of the population.
revocation of voting rights for those who have been incarcerated touches the
black population in proportions that are not seen in any other racial
demographic. In essence, a larger percentage of black people than any other
race are legally kept from the voting booth as continued punishment for an
offense for which they have already served a sentence. In fact, 1 in 5 African
Americans cannot vote in Tennessee due to a past felony conviction. It begs the
question: is the revocation of voting rights an ethical, reasonable, or even
pragmatic punishment for those who have committed felonies?
Tennessee, those who have been incarcerated are not given the opportunity to
restore that right unless they take steps to navigate a convoluted restoration
process. The process includes financial requirements that are prohibitive
for many people. Tennessee is the only state in the country that requires all
court-ordered child support to be paid as a condition of having one’s voting
rights restored. This sends yet another signal that we value those who have the
means to pay for their freedom rather than providing access equitably.
The Equity Alliance believes in fair and equal access to the ballot box for all eligible voters. That’s why TEA, along with with several advocacy organizations, such as the ACLU, Americans For Prosperity, Project Return, and Think Tennessee support a new bill that would make the voter restoration process much easier. The bill removes financial obligations and streamlines the administrative process. It puts the burden on the State rather than the individual.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee State Senate will vote on Senate Bill 0589/House Bill 0547, a bill that will move Tennessee one step closer to making it easier for those who have paid their debt to society to vote. It is imperative that Tennesseans hold elected officials responsible and support this bill. The erosion of voting rights for any demographic is unjust, and it is especially troubling when minority communities are disproportionately affected. We will be at the hearing on Tuesday, March 26 at 8:00 a.m., and we hope you’ll join us. You can also call the State Senators on the committee. It takes action from all of us.
NASHVILLE, TN – On Wednesday, February 13th, at 2:45 pm,
lawmakers, Matthew Charles, advocates and re-entry experts will gather at the
Tennessee State Capitol complex in Nashville to discuss new bills (SB 589 / HB 547) that will streamline the voting rights restoration
process to Tennesseans with felony convictions who have completed their
The roundtable will feature the bill sponsors, State Senator
Steven Dickerson and State Representative Michael Curcio, alongside Matthew
Charles, a formerly-incarcerated activist who was recently released under the
First Step Act, as well as prominent advocates and prisoner re-entry experts
from The Equity Alliance, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Project Return. Over the
course of the roundtable, participants will discuss the substance of the
legislation, its potential to limit bureaucratic interference in the rights
restoration process, and its impact on formerly incarcerated people living in
Currently, 320,000 Tennesseans with felony convictions, more
than 8 percent of the state’s total voting age population, are disenfranchised
by the onerous restoration process despite having already served their time and
successfully completed their parole and/or probation.
The roundtable will be moderated by Colin Weaver, Director of State Affairs for Secure Democracy. Roundtable participants include:
Tennessee State Senator Steve Dickerson
Tennessee State Representative Michael Curcio (opening remarks)
Matthew Charles, formerly-incarcerated activist released from prison under the First Step Act
Tori Venable, State Director at Americans for Prosperity Tennessee
Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of ACLU of Tennessee
Tequila Johnson, Co-Founder and Vice President of The Equity Alliance (opening remarks)
Bettie Kirkland, Executive Director of Project Return
The roundtable will be open to the press and the public.
WHAT: Roundtable on Restoring Voting Rights to Tennesseans With Felony Convictions
In Tennessee, July 1 is when bills that were passed and signed by the Governor usually take effect as law. We’ve got a rundown of laws you need to know about. We’re not surprised that some of our legislators continue to pass laws rooted in hate, fear, division and exclusion. We’ve highlighted a few of the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the Tennessee General Assembly passed this year.
The cost of expunging a conviction has been reduced from $350 to $180
Thanks to Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Tennesseans with a criminal record – many of whom live in poverty due to unemployment – will have a cheaper time getting their records expunged. It immediately became a law on May 25, 2017.
Gas taxes help to improve roads
Depending on how you look at this, the Governor’s IMPROVE Act will pump $248 million additional dollars into the budget to pay for 962 road construction projects in Tennessee. The law cuts taxes on groceries. It also gives $70 million to counties and $35 million to cities like Nashville to fund mass transit to alleviate traffic congestion.
The tax on a gallon of gas is going up by 4 cents on July 1, and then 1 cent each of the following two years, adding up to 6 cents total. The tax on diesel fuel is going up by a total of 10 cents over the next three years. The cost to register a vehicle in Tennessee will increase by $5 for passenger motor vehicles, $10 for buses and taxis and $20 for semis and tractor trailers. Electric vehicles will have an additional $100 registration fee.
HBCUs get some love by Love
Rep. Harold Love (D-Nashville) pushed a bill through that creates a new initiative and assigns personnel to assist Tennessee’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities with increasing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates by working with school presidents and administrators.
Adults in Tennessee can attend community college for free
Tennessee became the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school graduates and adults – the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers. Take advantage of this!
Pre-K and Kindergartners cannot be expelled or suspended
A law by Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) and Rep. Raumesh Akbari protects students in pre-kindergarten through kindergarten (pre-K-K) from being suspended or expelled from school, unless the student’s behavior endangers another student or staff person.
Teachers are getting more money for classroom supplies
Currently, $200 is set aside for every public teacher in K-12 for instructional supplies. A new law removes the requirement that half of the funds be pooled and instead allocates the entire amount to each teacher for instructional supplies as determined necessary by the teacher.
Board of Parole must have experience
A Senate bill (SB275) ensures that at least one member of the Board of Parole has corrections experience. Go figure.
Police officers’ identities are protected
It is now a misdemeanor offense to release the identity of a law enforcement officer’s resident address to the public. This will make officer-involved shooting investigations that much more secretive.HB0560
Tougher penalties for crimes against law enforcement officers
People who target uniformed police, military or national guardsmen can face tougher sentencing. But wait, where are the laws protecting unarmed black men killed by police?
Protestors are NOT protected
Forget having your First Amendment right, now you can be fined $200 for blocking emergency vehicles during a protest. Wanna keep black and brown people from protesting? Make it a law. Seems like this has been directed at Black Lives Matter.
Pregnant women are banned from getting an abortion after 20 weeks.
Credit cards can charge 30 percent interest
A law increases the maximum annual interest rate that a bank may charge on credit card accounts from 21 percent to 30 percent. Yep, let’s keep poor people poor and enslaved to the lender.