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Grade TL;DR

In 2021, the Tennessee State Legislature was able to make a few minor pro-voter changes, including increasing opportunities for counties to set up convenient voting centers on Election Day. 2021 also brought the banning of private funding for elections with a narrow avenue to allow funding with prior approval from the elected officials. While this wasn’t as bad as expected, in 2022, the Legislature passed three anti-voter bills that further restrict accessibility. Overall, the measures passed in 2021 and 2022 were somewhat minor, and taking into consideration the pro-voter initiatives passed in 2021, Tennessee received a C+ on this year’s progress report.

Looking Back

Where Tennessee Started in 2020

  • Automatic Voter Registration: No
  • Online Voter Registration: DMV ID
  • Same-Day Registration: No
  • Restoration of Rights: Some Permanent Disenfranchisement
  • Vote by Mail: Excuse-Required
  • Electronic Registration Information Center Member: No
  • Early Voting Opportunities: Regular Ballot Early Voting
  • ID Requirements: Strict Photo ID

Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Tennessee as of 2020, we considered the state a bottom tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other bottom tier states.

How Our Tier Compares:

  • COVI (2020): 46th
  • EPI Score (2020): 37th
  • CLC State Scorecard (2022): 5/10
  • MAP Democracy Rating (2022): LOW

2021: Two Years Ago

Legislative Action

At a time when most southern state legislatures were looking to enact measures to further restrict voting, the General Assembly was able to enact a few pro-voter changes. Although it passed a bill restricting private funds, it also created a carve out to allow the funds under certain conditions.

  • H 1178 increases opportunities for counties to set up convenient voting centers on Election Day. It expands the existing pilot program for centers and allows any county that previously participated in the pilot program and had favorable reports of the center to establish a permanent convenient voting center.
  • S 1534 restricts the use of private funds for election administration. However, it does leave open a narrow avenue to allow funding with prior approval, either by the House and Senate speakers for funding the state or funding the secretary of state, or by the secretary of state for funding counties.

2022: This Past Year

Legislative Action

Although the Assembly mostly held the line on election law changes in 2021, unfortunately, that was not the case in 2022. The General Assembly enacted several new anti-voter restrictions this past year.

  • S 2675 revises the state’s post-election audit procedures to allow the secretary of state to conduct random audits of three counties after the primary and six counties after the general election. It also allows the secretary of state to choose the method of audit from among three options: a “risk-limiting audit,” a “traditional audit” where bipartisan teams of election officials conduct a hand count of a sample of ballots, or a “performance audit” that reviews election procedures.
  • H 2128 creates a redundant law that expressly bars non-citizens from voting in elections, as is already prohibited by Tennessee law. It also authorizes local election officials to use potentially flawed jury duty disqualification data to remove registered voters from the rolls.
  • H 2483 prohibits the governor and state and local election officials from entering into any consent decrees related to election laws without first consulting with the House and Senate speakers. It also allows the Assembly to sue the state or local election officials for violating this law.