Tennessee rejects calls to halt purge of inactive voters from registration rolls

NASHVILLE - Secretary of State Tre Hargett is rejecting calls by the Tennessee League of Women Voters and a New York law firm to change how the state purges inactive voters from voter registration lists in light of a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in an Ohio case.

In his letter Friday, Hargett, a Republican, said his office "has reviewed [the] letter alleging that Tennessee is in violation of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. We believe that Tennessee's laws for removing voters are substantially different than the laws and directives at issue in Ohio."

Hargett added: "Additionally, your letter was not received until after early voting had begun across the state, and changing the rules at this stage of the process would present a major disruption to elections in Tennessee."

With Tennessee also falling under the 6th Circuit's jurisdiction, League of Women Voters President Marian Ott and Stuart Naifeh, a senior counsel with the New York-based law firm Demos involved in the Ohio litigation, wrote letters to Hargett saying he should drop what they called Tennessee's similar method of purging voters from registration lists.

Asked about Hargett's decision, Ott said Friday afternoon, "[The] League of Women Voters of Tennessee is obviously disappointed in Secretary Hargett's response. His response offers no information about why the facts in Tennessee are substantially different than in the Ohio case because they are not different - Tennessee has a purging process based on nonvoting."

She said the league also disagrees that there is nothing that can be done for the current election.

"Voters who believe they are duly registered, even if they are not on the voter registration rolls, are supposed to be provided a provisional ballot," she said.

Naifeh said in his letter to Hargett that Tennessee is "not in compliance with Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act."

He also noted Tennessee law describes a process in which voters who don't vote in a period of "two consecutive November elections" are sent a forwardable confirmation notice. Voters who don't respond to the notice or don't update their registration or vote in the subsequent period "between the time the notice is sent and the second regular November election after the notice was sent" see their registrations purged.

The 6th Circuit, Naifeh wrote, "recently ruled that this type of process violates the [National Voter Registration Act]."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1