Voter column

Tennessee now ranks as the 49th worst state for our voter non-participation.  

As a direct result, between 2017 and 2018 a total of 221,235 inactive voters were purged across Tennessee.  As of early 2019, there were 14,881 Rutherford County inactive voters purged. These purged voters had failed to vote in 2016 and 2018 and neglected to respond to the election commission’s address confirmation requests.      

It’s safe to assume that many of these individuals remain unaware that they’ve been stricken from the voter rolls and don’t realize that unless they re-register in a timely fashion they will be unable to vote in the 2020 elections. With that in mind all voters are urged to visit GoVoteTN.com where they can verify their voter status and information, change their address, and register or re-register as needed. This state-run website is easily accessed by smart phone, iPad or computer.  

Most Americans take their hard-won voting rights for granted, assuming them to be sacrosanct. Few realize that those rights are not inviolate and come with strings attached. That is evidenced by the fact that between 2016 and 2018, 17 million people across the country had their voter registrations canceled. The majority were the result of failures to vote and confirm legal residency with local election officials.    

This regular, nationwide “cleansing of the voter rolls” was upheld by the Supreme Court as a necessary and legal means for removing those who moved away, died or had a felony conviction. Nevertheless, the process is rife with frequent errors, misidentification, and blatant abuse; hence it remains a controversial and contentious practice.         

Ohio’s secretary of state is about to remove 200,000 people from that state’s voter rolls even though 4,000 of them were being erroneously purged due to a serious technical error. Most recently 150,000 registered Kentucky voters were improperly placed on an “inactive” list which could jeopardize their right to vote in November 2020.   

A purged voter summary from the Brennan Center for Justice says that, “States maintain voter rolls in an inconsistent and unaccountable manner. Officials strike voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation … over the past several years, every single purge list the Brennan Center reviewed has been flawed.”   

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that voters who fail to exercise their right to vote contribute to what has become a larger pattern of voter disenfranchisement and voter suppression as reflected in increasingly restrictive voter identification laws, driver’s license suspensions for unpaid child support and the closure of 1700 local polling places in 13 states.   

Also worrisome is the high rate of felony convictions, particularly in Tennessee where 1 in 12 have lost their right to vote and 1 in 5 of them are African Americans. Regaining that right is complicated and expensive; hence since 1990 and 2015, only 11,581 of those eligible have managed to have their voting rights restored.    

That Tennessee is ranked a dismal 44th among the 50 states for our low rate of voter registration further contributes to fewer citizens participating in the electoral process. Adding insult to injury was a particularly egregious legislative bill passed in 2019 restricting who, when and how many voter registrations could be submitted at a time and imposing severe fines for violations and/or noncompliance.    

Fortunately, its implementation was effectively blocked by a federal court judge who scathingly declared it to be a “punitive regulatory scheme harmful to constitutional rights.”   

So, what about all those former voters, involuntarily purged or merely unregistered, who remain voiceless and powerless? If you doubt their numbers you can see for yourself just how many reside in your neighborhood by checking a new, free website called Map the Vote. Sign up, put in your address, then watch the red dots pop up with the addresses of all your non-voting neighbors. You’ll probably be shocked at the numbers.    

So, with all that said, how can we counteract the ongoing threats which voter purging, disenfranchisement and suppression poses to our voting rights? Besides changing the laws and the lawmakers allowing such transgressions to continue, the solution remains relatively simple: JUST REGISTER AND VOTE!  

Chloe Cerutti and Linda Sullivan are with Tennesseans for Legislative Change and can be reached at TLCvote@gmail.com.

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