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Tennessee Senate OKs bill to penalize voter signup group for incomplete forms

The Tennessee State Capitol Building in downtown Nashville is seen in this photo. A Tennessee state house panel voted on March 5, 2019, to advance a business anti-discrimination bill that advocacy groups fear would further an anti-LGBT agenda in the state.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Senate has cleared a bill allowing penalization of paid voter registration groups through fines for too many incomplete signup forms and criminal charges for violating new requirements.

The bill backed by Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett advanced Thursday. The House needs to vote on Senate changes.

The legislation creates class A misdemeanors if, knowingly or intentionally, groups pay workers based on quotas; or enroll 100-plus voters and shirk state training or fail to ship completed forms within 10 days of registration drives or by the deadline.

Groups submitting 100-plus incomplete registrations over a year could be fined.

Opponents worry the bill will hinder Tennessee’s already-low voter participation. The state is 50th in voter participation.

Hargett’s office has lamented Tennessee Black Voter Project’s submission of about 10,000 Shelby County registrations on last year’s deadline, many filled out incorrectly.

Last year, Shelby County Election Commission officials said between 3,000 and 5,000 voter registration applications were missing key information, like names, Social Security numbers or addresses. Felons were also trying to register, and some people tried to register multiple times, they said, blaming the Tennessee Black Voter project for most of the problem applications.

The group filed a lawsuit asking to inspect the rejected forms.

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