On July 28, 1860, Republican Missouri Attorney General James B. Gardenhire said there are three things we need to be careful about: the freedom of the press, the freedom of speech and the purity of the ballot box.
While other states chose to diminish the purity of the ballot box, Tennessee's elections were free of the controversy seen in other states. Tennessee election laws proved to protect the integrity of our elections, and Tennessee voters demonstrated their confidence, in the face of the pandemic, by turning out in record numbers.
Registering to vote and voting in Tennessee has never been easier. A record number of 4.4 million Tennesseans are registered voters in large part to the GOP-led Tennessee Online Voter Registration law, enacted by the General Assembly in 2016. This law put into place an easy and secure way to register to vote or to update a voter's registration. Eligible Tennesseans can access it from their cellphone, tablet or laptop at GoVoteTN.gov. This system works and does so without compromising the security of our voter rolls.
While some states opted to reduce the number of polling places or reduce access to in-person voting, Tennessee's dedicated election officials worked to ensure that in-person voting was preserved. In addition to continuing Tennessee's robust early voting periods, Republicans have begun testing voting convenience centers that allow voters to vote at any polling place, not just their home precinct on Election Day.
In 2020, Tennesseans demonstrated their continued preference for in-person voting. As a result, Tennessee voters set a new early voting turnout record. To ensure this effort's success, the General Assembly passed a law I sponsored in March 2020, making it easier for more Tennesseans to be poll officials. This law's success led to polling locations being properly staffed.
While 2020 voters voted in record numbers, I believe we still have more work to do to increase voter turnout in state and federal elections and municipal elections.
In 2018, I sponsored legislation to move the dates of municipal elections in Tennessee's four largest counties. These elections would have been moved to the August primary and November general election ballots, reducing election costs and increasing voter turnout in municipal elections.
While the legislation did not become law, we need to continue to look for ways to engage newly eligible Tennesseans to register and turn out for all elections. At my personal invitation, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and other state officials conducted a voter registration drive at Olivet Baptist Church. It was heartwarming to see the response of these new voters and to be able to cut through the shrill voter suppression narrative that seems to gain headlines but has no substance.
Make no mistake about it. Voting in Tennessee is easy, safe and secure. A record number of voters proved this during the 2020 election. Our election laws protected the purity of the ballot box and made it easier than ever to register to vote and cast a ballot, regardless of what others might try to lead you to believe. Tennesseans are smart enough to see through these false voter suppression claims.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, is vice chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, which hears all election laws-related legislation.