The Davidson County Election Commission is expected to reconsider a controversial vote that one member said would call for “profiling” foreign-born voters. The commission voted 3-2 on Feb. 21 to ask the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to review the citizenship status of recently registered voters who were born outside the United States. But Metro attorneys later said doing so would violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act — also known as the “motor voter law” — by creating two different classes of voters and scrutinizing one class more than the other. Steve Abernathy, the Republican election commissioner who proposed the move, said he wanted to see whether non-citizens, while living here legally, have been improperly registering to vote during the process of applying for driver’s licenses. “The process at the Department of Safety is not set up to prevent them from completing a voter registration card,” Abernathy said. “And then (state officials) send that information to the election commission, but all we get is the completed card. We don’t get the backup information. There’s no way to verify a person’s citizenship at the Davidson County Election Commission.”
But A.J. Starling, a Democratic election commissioner who voted against the plan, said it “didn’t pass the smell test.”
“Steve seemed to think this is a major issue,” Starling said. “But the process we were going to go through was actually profiling, in my opinion, because we were taking just the (foreign-born) folk. I was saying, ‘We need to be careful about what this is going to look like. It looks like we’re going after immigrants.’ ”
Patricia Heim, a Republican commissioner, joined Starling in the minority opposing the proposal. Heim said she didn’t think the commission should investigate a subset of voters “after the fact.”
“Singling out someone who answers yes to the citizenship question, answers yes to the residency, answers yes to the age, answers no to the felony and provides all other information but indicates they were born outside the U.S., I think that is asking to treat them differently,” she said.