Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Election Laws

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    Legislation preserving the integrity of Tennessee’s election process, while encouraging voter registration was passed during the 2019 session of the General Assembly. Ensuring that Tennesseans have the opportunity to vote is important to me as well as making sure the elections are accurate and protected. We will continue to explore ways to improve the voting process in our state.

   Voter Registration — This new law comes after election officials in Davidson and Shelby counties experienced a large last-minute surge in voter registration applications during the 2018 elections. A large number of these applications were incomplete or contained incorrect or false information.

    The new law enhances election security by: (1) requiring a person or organization conducting a supplemental voter registration drive of 100 people or more to be trained to properly complete applications and protect confidential information; (2) prohibiting organizations from paying individuals based on the number of voter registration forms submitted; (3) requiring applications collected by designated people or organizations to be filed in a timely manner, within ten days of receiving the voter registration; and (4) permitting the State Election Commission to assess a civil penalty to organizations paid to conduct voter registration that submit 100 or more deficient forms, excluding omission of Social Security numbers. It prescribes a Class A misdemeanor offense for groups paying circulators to gather as many voter registration forms as they can.  Penalties are for violators who intentionally and knowingly violate the law. 

    The legislation does not affect strictly volunteer organizations that register voters such as the Boy Scouts, churches, college Student Government Associations, and other similar organizations.

    Election Laws / Response to Candidate Qualification – State lawmakers approved legislation that gives a candidate who has been excluded from the ballot a right to respond to that decision. After the filing deadline, there is a seven day period to withdraw a candidate’s name. Previously, a state executive committee could determine a candidate to be unqualified and remove his/her name from the ballot without providing any notice to the candidate or time to respond. The new law requires that in the event a party’s state executive committee excludes a candidate’s name from the ballot, that candidate must be provided written notice within two days of the decision.  It also authorizes the candidate to appeal the determination with the executive committee within two days of receiving the notice of exclusion, and establishes that unless the executive committee withdraws their disqualification determination within seven days of the original withdrawal deadline, the coordinator of elections must exclude the name from the ballot.

   Election Laws / Vacancies – Legislation was approved this year calling for a change in the process to fill a vacancy in the State Senate if it occurs within 45 days or less before a November general election. Previous law required a write-in election under such a scenario. The new law establishes that if such a vacancy occurs, the county executive committee for the respective party of the vacant seat may nominate a candidate for the November ballot within 48 hours of notice. Independents can also run by filing a petition by noon of the same day that the candidates are being certified. The legislation allows the county election commission to publish the sample ballot on its website or on the Secretary of State’s website due to brevity of time. If early voting occurred prior to the vacancy, persons who have already voted would be allowed to cast a ballot in this election.