Voter Registration Is Surging—So Republicans Want to Criminalize It
Turnout by voters of color went up by double digits in Tennessee and other states last year, prompting a spate of GOP bills designed to shut down voter registration drives.
The new face of voter suppression is also the oldest Jim Crow tactic on the books: Block voters from getting on the rolls to begin with.
In the wake of a midterm that saw surging turnout by non-white, young, and urban voters—all blocs that tend to favor Democrats—a backlash in GOP state legislatures was perhaps inevitable. What troubles voting rights advocates is that Republicans have now set out to penalize not just voters but the groups trying to register them, in some cases with astronomical fines and jail time that effectively criminalize civic engagement.
The most extreme example is a law newly enacted in Tennessee that imposes civil and criminal penalties, including fines of up to $10,000 or more and close to a year in jail, on organizers who submit incomplete registration forms, fail to participate in state-mandated trainings, or fail to submit forms within a ten-day window. The law violates both the First and the 14th Amendments, say civil rights advocates who have filed suit, and also runs afoul of the National Voter Registration Act.
“This seems like a new frontier, a concerning frontier, and one that should be nipped in the bud by the federal courts,” says Danielle Lang, co-director of the Campaign Legal Center’s voting rights and redistricting program. “Because this is the First Amendment at its core.”