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File photo by Tim Barber / Voting at the Glenwood precinct in a past election.

We want easier voting

"Restricting voter registration drives in order to try to preserve election commission resources is like poisoning the soil in order to have an easier harvest."

That was U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, in ruling last week that at least temporarily blocks Tennessee election officials from suppressing voter turnout by way of enforcing strict new regulations on voter registration drives in the state.

The law, originally set to go into effect in October, was pushed last April by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who said it was necessary to police the validity of all of our voter registration efforts — many of which happen in voter drives by groups such as the League of Women Voters and others. The new law would expose those civic-minded groups to criminal misdemeanor charges, jail time and draconian fines for submitting too many — 100 or more — incomplete forms.

Incomplete as in when a new registrant is reluctant to put his or her Social Security number on a form handed to a stranger.

Hargett suggested the law after the the Tennessee Black Voter Project last year registered 86,000 black and brown people to vote in Tennessee. We think it has less to do with policing — which actually should fall to the Secretary of State's workers, not civic groups — and more to do with voter suppression.

With this law, that suppression is ratcheted up from individual would-be voters themselves to the churches, universities, nonprofits, political parties and others signing up voters.

Judge Trauger wasn't buying it.

"There is simply no basis in the record for concluding that the Act will provide much benefit to Tennesseans, and even less reason to think that any benefit will come close to outweighing the harms to Tennesseans (and non-Tennesseans) who merely wish to exercise their core constitutional rights of participating in the political process by encouraging voter registration," she wrote in her decision. She also called certain provisions of the law "troubling" and "vague."

Just last spring, a Vanderbilt University poll found Tennessee standing at "a political crossroads" with our lawmakers on many issues, including voter registration and voting rights. Some 66% of respondents said they support "motor-voter" policies that automatically register Tennesseans to vote when they get driver's licenses or interact with other state agencies. Our state lawmakers have consistently sought to restrict voter registration. Another 74% of voters said they support restoration of voting rights for Tennesseans with certain felony convictions after they complete their sentences. A bill to do that went nowhere in this year's legislative session.

Did we mention that Tennessee ranks 44th in the nation in voter registration?

 

We want more health care access

Then there's health care. Our state lawmakers and our current president and Congress don't like the Affordable Care Act and have done everything in their power to sabotage it.

Thus it is no shocker that U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2018 have found the red states of Tennessee, Alabama and Arizona are tied for having the nation's third largest percentage increase in uninsured people.

An estimated 46,000 additional Tennesseans — 0.6 percent — have no health coverage. Overall, that raises the estimated total of uninsured Tennesseans to 675,000, or just over one in every 10 people.

It also is part of a national pattern. Census reports that the number of Americans without insurance in 2018 rose by 27.5 million people — 8.5% of the population compared to 2017's 7.9%.

But Tennessee has a leading edge at stripping health care away from children. Earlier this year, the Tennessee Justice Center, a health advocacy group, announced an estimated 130,000 low-income children statewide (5,500 in Hamilton County) were purged over the last two years from TennCare and another state and federally funded program for the poor, CoverKids. Tennessee leads the nation — repeat, leads the nation — in disenrolling children from Medicaid and TennCare, leaving them without any form of insurance.

The Vanderbilt poll that asked what Tennesseans wanted their state lawmakers to know touched on health care, too.

The answers were decisive: Tennesseans strongly support policies related to children's health. For example, 72% said they backed the recently passed "Katie Beckett" waiver law that permits families of severely disabled children to receive Medicaid funding regardless of income level. Additionally, 60% said they supported expanding Medicaid to include more low-income adults. And 87% of voters favor mandatory vaccination for healthy children seeking to attend public schools.

 

We want strong gun safety

One heartening news story last week was about the letter signed by the CEOs of nearly 150 American businesses making a direct and urgent call for the Republican-controlled Senate to address gun violence in America by enacting expanded background checks for all firearms sales and stronger "red flag" laws — bills already introduced and passed in the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

"Doing nothing about America's gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety," the letter states.

A number of polls have put backing for such policies above 90 percent.

The market is demanding action, and businesses are listening — even if our lawmakers aren't.

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