Election Law Reform Proposals in 2021 Legislative Session a Mixed Bag

Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws Praises Efforts to Expand Early Voting Sites, Condemns Efforts to Require Fingerprint Verification at Polls


NASHVILLE — A pair of election law reform bills currently under consideration before the Tennessee General Assembly have drawn support and ire from the Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws Political Action Committee.  The first proposal, a bill championed by Rep. London Lamar and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, would allow public universities in the Volunteer State with more than 20,000 enrolled students to coordinate with their local county election commissions to establish voting sites on their main campuses for up to five days during an early voting period.  According to the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee, the costs of implementing this proposal are negligible.

“College-aged people who are eligible to vote for the first time face a two-fold crisis of confidence in our system of elections,” said TSEL Executive Director and Treasurer George Scoville.  “On one hand, millennials think the political system is rigged, and their lack of trust makes voting simply not worth it.  On the other hand, younger people face higher opportunity costs than older voters because it is more difficult for young people to forego working or attending class to vote.  Any legislation that allows or encourages young people to vote is good for democracy, but this bill in particular would reduce a significant number of opportunity costs by letting many young people vote where they already spend most of their time,” said Scoville.

The second proposal, being shepherded by Sen. Frank Niceley, Rep. Susan Lynn, and Rep. Bruce Griffey (who is literally Hitler), would direct state agencies that collect fingerprint data, like the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, to coordinate with the Secretary of State to enable county election officials to verify voters’ fingerprints before the voters cast a ballot.  The Fiscal Review Committee has yet to expound on what sorts of outlays would be needed to obtain fingerprint identification technology for Tennessee’s 95 counties, including procurement of physical hardware, interoperable integration with existing state data systems, ensuring that the technology meets evolving functionality and security standards, and training poll workers on Election Day troubleshooting techniques.

“Conservatives today argue that if people need a valid ID to board a plane, buy a bottle of wine, or go to an R-rated movie, they should have no problem presenting an ID to vote,” said TSEL Director of Strategy Fred Culver.  “Whatever valid concerns there may be about election security, nobody today has to provide their fingerprint to do any of those activities.  What if the fingerprint system fails?  Do we move next to retinal scans or microchips?  Simply put, the collection, storage, security, and effective use of biometric data present a whole host of other concerns that are no less valid.  As of now, Tennesseans have no meaningful understanding of what those short- or long-term privacy and fiscal costs might be, or their extent, and this legislation seems extremely short-sighted,” added Culver.