Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins announced that legislation passed by the state House and Senate today will hold county election officials accountable for accepting voter registration forms that are deficient on the face of the forms.
Legislators began working on the bill after Mark Ward, the new election administrator in Benton County, discovered 2,100 voter registration forms submitted during his predecessors' tenures that had major deficiencies. In most cases, the forms had either not been signed or boxes denoting citizenship or whether the individuals had been convicted of a felony had not been checked.
The bill holds those individuals who had deficient voter registration forms harmless while holding administrators of elections accountable for accepting deficient forms.
Ward and his staff sent out notices to all the affected voters requesting they correct the deficiencies. The majority of those who had deficiencies have corrected their forms. If the bill becomes law, it will not be necessary for the remaining individuals with deficient registration forms to take corrective action.
“This bill provides both a short-term and a long-term solution to the type of problems discovered in Benton County,” Coordinator Goins said. “It is important to note that no one in Benton County has been or will be purged because of a deficient voter registration form.”
Under the bill, each county election commission in Tennessee will be required to conduct inspections of newly-submitted voter registration forms at least four times each year. Two election commissioners from each county - one Republican and one Democrat - will check the forms for deficiencies.
The commissioners would then report their findings to the state Coordinator of Elections. In counties where significant numbers of deficient forms are discovered, the local election administrators could be subject to discipline by the State Election Commission or termination by their local election commissions.
“Had this bill been in effect there would be no questions about why there were 2,100 deficient voter registration forms in Benton County,” Secretary Hargett said.