A federal judge has blocked a new Tennessee law that would have imposed strict regulations on voter registration efforts in the state. Judge Aleta Trauger said the law was unconstitutional and would cause more harm than good.
The ruling is a win for voting rights advocates in a state with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.
The law, set to take effect next month, would have threatened groups with both civil and criminal penalties if they violated new requirements for voter registration drives. Groups could have been charged up to $10,000 if they submitted registration forms missing an applicant's name, birthday or signature. The law also added tighter deadlines for groups to submit voter registration forms before elections.
The League of Women Voters of Tennessee and six other organizations sued the Secretary of State and other election officials in May, arguing that the law violated both the First and Fourteenth amendments. They worried it would be nearly impossible to keep registering voters without breaking the law.
"We can now comfortably proceed with the important work of registering voters and providing election information," League of Women Voters of Tennessee President Marian Ott said in a statement. "As importantly, we can tell community partners who have halted registration activities to proceed full steam ahead! The citizens of Tennessee and the exercise of democracy are the beneficiaries today."
The defendants in the lawsuit, however, argued the act would specifically have penalized groups that don't take proper care to registration forms don't have any errors.
Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Groins said in a statement that "one of the best ways to register to vote is online."
"Our goal is to properly register voters and make sure Tennesseans know their votes matter," he said.
Today's ruling temporarily bars the state from enforcing the new restrictions. Tennessee's Attorney General hasn't said if he'll appeal the decision.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.