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NASHVILLE - Spurred by reports that some poll workers in Monroe County have provided "misleading" information to voters on the proposed abortion amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has demanded state officials make it clear to all 95 local election commissions that such activity is unacceptable.
In her letter on Friday to Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordinator Mark Goins, ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said the organization is "very troubled about reports that poll workers are distributing misleading and clearly partisan information" on all four of the proposed amendments to the Tennessee Constitution.
That includes Amendment 1, which would change the state constitution and hand new powers to state lawmakers to enact new laws on abortion.
"We received reports that poll workers gave voters a guide that states, among other things, that voting no on Amendment 1 indicates that 'you believe later term [partial birth] abortions need fewer regulations,'" Weinberg wrote.
She said the voter guide also advises that by voting against Amendment 3, which bans state officials from ever enacting an income tax, "you are saying you believe Tennessee needs to eventually get a State Income tax."
"Such statements are subjective and also driven by specific campaigns," Weinberg said, and urged state officials to "immediately issue a directive to all county Election Commissions denouncing this practice and mandating that poll workers and other election officials are prohibited from distributing such material or otherwise attempting to influence a voter's decision."
Efforts on Saturday to contact Hargett and Goins' spokesman, Blake Fontenay, by telephone and email were unsuccessful.
Weinberg said Saturday in an interview that "I understand they followed through on it ... to send the directive immediately before the close of business [on Friday]."
She said the reports came out of four precincts in Monroe County, including one each in Madisonville and Sweetwater. It wasn't clear whether the voter guides were actually handed out or simply read to voters, she said.
Her letter warns that distributing "material designed to mislead and confuse voters is tantamount to influencing that person's vote." And, Weinberg noted in the letter, it is a Class A misdemeanor if someone "influences or attempts to influence the voter in casting such person's vote."
The ACLU-TN opposes the abortion amendment.
The letter also asks the state to get to the bottom of a news report by a Nashville television station on Thursday in which several voters complained about voting machine malfunctions in Maury and Davidson counties.
Among other things, two voters in Maury County were quoted by WSMV-TV saying touch-screen voting machines changed their "no" vote on the Amendment 1 abortion amendment to a "yes." One Davidson County reporter complained it happened when she sought to cast a vote for the Democratic candidate in the U.S. Senate race.
Fontenay told the Times Free Press on Friday the office looked into the complaints and said the problems were "apparently user error."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.