Emblazoned on the front page of the website for Vote.org, which was founded in 2008 to increase voter turnout, there’s a quotation from Ronald Reagan: “For this Nation to remain true to its principles, we cannot allow any American’s vote to be denied, diluted, or defiled. The right to vote is the crown jewel of American liberties, and we will not see its luster diminished.” The Party of Reagan no longer shares this particular ideal, at least not here in the South. In Tennessee, transparent voter suppression efforts have included an array of tactics: Confiscating the driver’s licenses of citizens who can’t afford to pay traffic fines. This onerous law prevents the impoverished not only from voting but also from working — 93.4 percent of working Tennesseans need cars to get to their jobs — and being unable to work prevents them from paying their fines. “Since 2012, at least 250,000 driver’s licenses have been suspended for nonpayment of traffic fines and costs,” according to a class-action lawsuit filed against the state. Last month, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering Tennessee to stop the practice of revoking licenses and requiring the state to allow people to apply to get their licenses back. The state is appealing the decision.
Effectively disenfranchising college students. It’s not permissible to mail in a ballot in Tennessee unless you registered to vote in person before an election commission official, or have voted in a previous election. This law makes it extremely difficult for students to vote in national elections, which are, of course, held in November and thus in the middle of a school term. The rules about voting by mail in Tennessee are so complicated that the campaign staff of United States Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat, created a graphic to help explain it. Even the graphic is complicated.
Disqualifying voter registration applications for specious reasons. Shelby County is Tennessee’s largest county. It is also a county where African-Americans are in the majority. Last month, the Memphis branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Tennessee Black Voter Project sued the Shelby County Election Commission over a backlog of more than 10,000 voter registration applications that had not yet been processed because, according to election officials, they were incomplete. (The election commission considered an application incomplete even if only the field designating the citizen’s title — Mr., Ms. or Mrs. — was left blank.) A Chancery Court judge ordered the commission to allow citizens to complete the forms and vote on Election Day. The Tennessee Supreme Court subsequently ruled that such voters could cast provisional ballots only.