Voting rights groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday, hours after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed into law a measure that would impose criminal charges and fines on voter registration groups over incomplete forms and missed deadlines.
Lee said the bill creates "elections with integrity," according to The Washington Post, but the coalition of voting rights groups argued that the measure's regulations violate the First Amendment.
Voter rights groups contend that the law is intended to prevent people, particularly African Americans and other minorities, from registering to vote in a state that has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the nation.
The lawsuit, filed by the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, The Equity Alliance and The Andrew Goodman Foundation, argues that the law "violate[s] the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and [would] have a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental First Amendment rights."
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing the groups in the lawsuit, said the law is an attempt to prevent people from voting.
“Tennessee’s law is one of the most restrictive voter suppression measures that we have seen this year. This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to discourage and deter people from helping others to register to vote,” she said in a statement.
Critics of the law have accused it of attempting to suppress black voters after organized efforts in the 2018 midterm election cycle to boost voter turnout among African Americans and people of color.
The law makes a range of registration violations class A misdemeanors, which are punishable by nearly a year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines, according to The Associated Press. Those violations include paying workers to register new voters based on quotas, enrolling more than 100 voters without participating in state training and missing deadlines to send in registration forms.
Groups could be forced to pay as much as $10,000 per county if more than 500 incomplete forms are sent in. Tennessee could also fine groups that submit 100 or more incomplete voter registration forms per year that lack a name, address, date of birth, declaration of eligibility or signature, the AP noted.
The Hill has reached out to Tennessee's attorney general for comment.