Voter Suppression in Unicoi County?

Since the 2010 elections, voting rights have been under attack in this country as Republican state legislatures pass voter suppression laws designed to prevent Democratic leaning voters from voting.

During the 2011 legislative sessions, twenty-one states across the country passed laws to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a vote. Studies show that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID.

The measures passed have resulted in voter rosters being purged at alarming rates, dumping large numbers of voters off the rosters and recently purging voting histories as well.

Voter histories are important because the lack of a voting history leads to voter purges. Tennessee law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-2-106) grants local county election commissions the legal authority to purge voters from the rolls who have not voted in the past two federal elections. In many incidences, voters are unaware of this although law requires notification.

Many election commissioners have routinely “purged” voters’ names from voter registration rosters after those voters failed to participate in at least two federal elections in a four year period. Such purging, when done without bias and legitimately, usually results in reducing the roster size by 1 percent to 3 percent.

In Tennessee there has been a great deal of attention given to the mysterious disappearance of voting histories for 488 registered voters in Shelby County, but an analysis of two recent statewide voter files provided by state election officials paints an even more troubling picture.

In November 2010, there were 602, 647 registered voters in Shelby. Now there are 431,054 registered voters – a drop of 171, 593 voters or a 28.5 percent decrease in eighteen months.

An internal analysis conducted by the Tennessee Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee’s voter protection team has found that more than 11,000 voters across the state in Tennessee, who are still active on the voter file, have had parts of their voting history disappear. Ninety-two people in Unicoi County have had voting history disappear.

Left unaddressed, these mistakes, whether intentional or not, could endanger the right to vote for thousands of law-abiding Tennesseans. Nationally this problem will endanger registered voters rights to cast a vote.

Free and fair elections are the lifeblood of a democracy. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, all courts, regardless of ideological beliefs, have frowned upon states and municipalities that erect barriers to free and transparent voting procedures. Voting is a fundamental right, not a privilege. Across Tennessee and America, the right to cast a ballot is under attack and this is a clear attack on our Constitution. Maybe instead of sending Americans to monitor other countries elections, we need to put them at work at home.

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