Opinion: Tennesseans in upcoming elections won't buy 'voter suppression' claims in Democrats' fundraising

Just before we hit "delete" on what appeared to be another junk email recently, these words caught our eyes: "Did you know that Tennessee is 49th in the nation for voter turnout?"

Since we knew that was a false statement, we took time to open the email to see who would be sending out such a blatant untruth. The sender was the Tennessee Democratic Party.

What is causing the state "to have such a low turnout," the email said, was voter suppression.

Our recollection was that Tennessee set some voter records in 2020, but we went searching to be sure we were thinking straight. We were.

In 2020, the Volunteer State set records for numbers of voters (nearly 3.05 million) and turnout (68%). It also smashed records for early voting and - amid the COVID-19 pandemic - for absentee voting.

Tennessee, according to the United States Election Project, had been 49th in voter turnout in the 2010 and 2016 general elections but has been as high as 28th since 2000 and was 47th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in 2020.

That the missive was a fundraising email could account for the lead sentence being an attention grabber. But why, to put it gently, stretch the truth?

It turns out, though, the obfuscations weren't through.

The fundraising email further stated: "Tennessee has some of the most egregious voting restrictions in the country. Strict voter ID laws, voter purging, complicated absentee voting rules, a 30-day registration cut-off, modern-day poll taxes, and outdated, glitchy voter machines all play a role in tarnishing the integrity of our state's elections."

Let's examine some of the claims.

* Strict voter ID laws: Thirty-five of the 50 states had some type of voter identification law in 2021. Tennessee is one of seven states to require a photo ID, with provisions for those who don't have one to use a provisional ballot and produce the proper ID within two business days.

Tennessee was ranked third in the country in a 2021 Heritage Foundation election integrity scorecard, which assessed the status of state laws needed for election fairness and security. If a strict voter ID law means better election integrity, we'll make that trade every time.

* Voter purging: Purging voter rolls, according to the Encyclopedia of American Politics, is a means to ensure voter rolls are dependable, accurate, and up-to-date.

Tennessee law only allows a voter to be purged if the voter requests it; if a voter has had a name change for 90 days or more, except by marriage, and the voter fails to notify the election commission; if the voter dies; if the election commission is informed the voter has been convicted of certain crimes; if the election commission receives written confirmation the voter has moved outside the county of registration or has registered to vote in another jurisdiction; or if the voter fails to respond to a confirmation notice, and if the voter fails to otherwise update the voter's registration over a period of two consecutive regular November elections following the date the notice was first sent.

The last tenet, the one that rankles many Democrats, allows voters two federal election cycles (and potentially more than six years) before they are removed. If voters don't show an interest in voting within that time, they should be removed.

* Complicated absentee ballot rules: Tennessee election laws give voters 14 different reasons they can vote absentee, including being age 60 or older or simply being ill. If more reasons to vote absentee instead of fewer make the state's rule complicated, then so be it.

The process to get and return an absentee ballot, as we witnessed close up in the May primary election, is simple.

* Modern-day poll taxes: Poll taxes were forbidden in a Tennessee Constitution revision in 1953. The Democratic Party did not explain what it meant by modern-day poll taxes, but online references have assigned such terms to felony ineligibility.

Tennessee denies the right to vote to persons convicted of some crimes, but many are eligible to regain their right after their release from prison.

* Outdated, glitchy voting machines: The state, in fact, uses 10 different voting systems, but voters - should they desire - can find instructions on how to use each on the secretary of state's website, sos.tn.gov.

Indeed, as Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said earlier this year, "Many in Tennessee have questions and issues trusting the 2020 elections, and there's a lot of misinformation out there regarding that. But the one thing I can assure you of ... is that no matter what you've heard of happening in the 2020 elections, nothing like that happened here.

"Tennessee's elections were secure and fair, and each person who voted got to cast one vote that was counted one time - no more and no less, which is how our electoral system was designed."

Democrats would like voters to overlook inflation, shortages and unhappiness with the Biden administration and - in Tennessee, at least - get caught up in a fake charge of voter suppression.

We don't think voters will buy it.