In 2018, The Equity Alliance led the Tennessee Black Voter Project as part of a collective effort to register approximately 91,000 black and brown Tennesseans. It was the first and largest statewide effort in Tennessee’s modern history dedicated to registering African Americans to vote. Six months later, politicians passed a law to punish, fine and criminalize voter registration drives like ours.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett proposed legislation that would assess the country’s most aggressive civil and criminal penalties — up to a $10,000 fine and class A misdemeanor — on third-party organizations who submit deficient voter registration forms while conducting large-scale voter registration drives of 100 or more people.
During this year’s legislative session, we fought hard to keep voter registration legal by opposing the bill, organizing the largest protest at the Tennessee State Capitol this year, doing direct calls-to-action to constituents, and garnering national media attention.
This law will have a chilling effect on any group attempting to conduct voter registration drives and will have a costly impact on any church, nonprofit, civic group or business that registers voters in Tennessee. The bill was signed into law by newly-elected Governor Bill Lee on May 2, 2019. That same day, we filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.
The Aye for an Aye campaign was a direct response to this voter suppression law. As a joint effort by The Equity Alliance and other state-based organizations and individuals, it committed to registering Black and Latinx voters in legislative districts where House and Senate lawmakers voted “yes” (aye) on the voter registration criminalization bill. For lawmaker’s who voted yes (“aye”) in the House and Senate to pass this law, we registered 100 voters who committed to voting in the 2020 election. The purpose of the listening sessions was to educate attendees about the recent voter suppression bill and to move people to take action before the law went into effect in October.