Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: Legislation Passed Through March 19

0
1809

    New law aims to strengthen integrity of Tennessee’s voting process — The General Assembly has approved a new law strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s voting process, as well as making the system more flexible in times of emergency.  It establishes that counties using an electronic ballot marking system or ballot-on-demand technology do not have to fasten paper ballots and ballot stubs together in books so that each ballot may be detached and removed separately.

    Current law requires ballots used in ballot marking devices or systems must have preprinted numbered stubs. The new statute eliminates that requirement, with changes ensuring that voters’ choices remain confidential. The legislation also prohibits immediate family members of a candidate on the ballot or employees who work directly under the supervision of a candidate from serving as election officials. To further ensure flexibility in times of emergency, the legislation allows for the movement of polling places due to an emergency. 

   Legislation addresses voter registration and cybersecurity — The General Assembly passed legislation ensuring voter registration drives operate successfully in Tennessee, while addressing recent court actions. The measure repeals all of the provisions of the law passed last year that were put on hold by the federal court. 

   Under the new law, training is no longer required before a voter drive is conducted; the distinction between paid and unpaid drives is removed; there are no criminal penalties in the bill; and it removes the potential misdemeanors. All provisions related to incomplete forms and any associated civil penalties have also been removed. In their place, the new statute contains protections to ensure voters are timely registered and not disenfranchised by the untimely submission of forms through voter registration drives. The Division of Elections will now be providing voluntary training to voter registration drive organizers. 

    In addition, the deadline to turn in forms is extended from 10 days to 15 days or the voter registration deadline, whichever comes first. The purpose of this requirement is so voters will not be disenfranchised because of the tardiness of the person who has taken on the responsibility of timely submitting the form. Numerous states have an even tighter period, including California which only allows three days. The bill protects personal information by making organizers ask for permission if they intend to sell a person’s data for commercial purposes. People attempting to register to vote should be able to do so without fear their data is being collected for commercial telemarketers.

    Civil penalties of up to $50 per violation would only apply when an organizer turns in forms more than 15 days or after the registration deadline, misuses a voter’s personal information, or sets quotas for people collecting forms or pays per form collected. This provision discourages individuals from turning in fake forms in order to meet a required number. The new law also combats misinformation by requiring someone who publishes wrong information about such things as voter registration or when and where to vote to notify election officials of their mistake once they realize the error. Knowing the misinformation is out there will help election officials get the right facts out in an effort to not disenfranchise voters. This allows help for any well-meaning effort to hopefully remedy any issues from this misinformation.

    Legislation stiffens penalties for cyber-attacks on the voting process – Legislation passed this year which aims to prevent cyber-hacking of the election process and the intentional spreading of misinformation that can disenfranchise voters by creating confusion. The new law adds and strengthens penalties for those who intentionally try to disrupt the election process. 

    The legislation makes it a Class E felony to provide or publish false or misleading information about who can vote, how to vote, or when and where to vote, when the person has intent to deceive by disseminating information which they know to be incorrect. The statute also expands the existing prohibition on tampering with a voting machine to include more aspects of the process from voter registration to election results. In addition, it makes it a Class D felony to attack, tamper, or interfere with the voting machines, electronic poll books, vote counting software, voter registration databases, ballot boxes, county or state election websites, and the election results reporting system. The legislation was reviewed by the District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Cybercrime Division.