Nearly 40 people met at the Blount County Public Library on Aug. 23 for a voter registration training session — the result of a recently passed law that would put strong restrictions on voter registration groups.
The session was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Blount County, but Blount County Administrator of Elections Susan Hughes led the discussion.
Attendees were given several handouts that detailed the regulations for voter registration drives, where the only acceptable forms are the National Voter Registration and Voter Registration forms.
Voters must provide Social Security numbers, addresses, birthdays and names.
If the applicant does not provide all of this information, the person registering him or her is still required to turn the form in. Election commissions will work to gather the missing information before processing the application.
The hosting group is encouraged to drop off all forms at the county election committee office immediately following the drive.
People who register to vote at a drive are required to vote in person the first time after registering.
The training session functioned mostly as an open discussion.
Several people asked questions, varying from whether applicants needed birth certificates to how long a person is registered to vote.
“Our job is very black and white, we have very little grey in our office,” Hughes said.
The next training session has not been planned, but likely will take place after Oct. 1, according to Vandy Kemp, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Blount County.
These training sessions are required under a new law that goes into effect on Oct. 1.
In May, Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation, which prohibits voter registration groups from submitting incomplete voter registration forms.
If the groups do so, they face fines and potential criminal punishment.
If 100 incomplete forms are turned in, the group could be fined as much as $2,000, while 500 incomplete forms could cost a voter registration group as much as $10,000.
Additionally, if a group hosting a voter registration drive misses a state-mandated training session, such as the one on Aug. 23, they could be fined $2,500 and charged with a Class A misdemeanor, according to The Associated Press.
The law comes after state officials claim they had to pay $200,000 to sort through incomplete voter registration forms in Shelby County.
Many voter registration groups have suggested that the true reason for the law is to deter low-income and voters of color.
Cliff Albright, one of the founders of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a voters rights activist group, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in April.
He claimed that “black-led, community-based organizations throughout Tennessee have been registering more voters, turning them out to vote and winning more elections for progressive issues and candidates.”
In turn, he writes, these voters are electing more progressive politicians.
The Black Voters Matter Fund, along with the NAACP, state that the influx of voters of color is the true reason that Tennessee is determined to put restrictions on groups going out into the community to register voters.
Voting controversies such as these are no stranger to Blount County.
Just last year, County Commissioner Jackie Hill was subject to social media scrutiny by opponents in the race for commissioner.
Her republican counterparts claimed that Hill personally filled out several applications.
Hill did not deny the allegations, but rather said that she, for years, had been helping disabled and elderly people register and vote. She would fill the forms out for them, and they would sign them.
“Everyone knows that’s what Jackie Hill does,” Hill said in a July 2018 interview with The Daily Times.
Hughes said what Hill did was legal.