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Federal lawsuit filed over new Tennessee law requiring polling places to warn voters against voting in the ‘wrong’ primary

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Federal lawsuit filed over new Tennessee law requiring polling places to warn voters against voting in the ‘wrong’ primary

Nov 30, 2023 | 6:01 am ET
By Adam Friedman
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Federal lawsuit filed over new Tennessee law requiring polling places to warn voters against voting in the “wrong” primary
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Voters entering a polling place in Nashville on Nov. 8, 2022. An analysis by States Newsroom found that eight states had voter turnout rates of below 50% when averaged between the last two national elections, and several of those states have since imposed new restrictions that are likely to make voting harder. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The League of Women Voters of Tennessee filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of a new law requiring every Tennessee polling place to display signs saying it is a crime to vote in a primary without being a bona fide party member.

The law passed earlier this year with only Republican votes in the state House and Senate. Members of the GOP caucus pushed for legislation after complaining that Democrats were crossing over to vote in Republican primaries during the 2022 elections.

Tennessee’s strong Republican tilt in rural and suburban communities and Democrat-leanings in the urban areas means often the most competitive election races occur in the primary, not the general election.

GOP-backed bill requires polling places to warn voters against voting in “wrong” primary

The state has no law requiring party registration and has an open primary system where voters can choose the primary ballot they want on election day.

Republican lawmakers also proposed a bill last year requiring party registration before an election, creating a closed primary system like in 15 other states, but it did not pass.

Former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, a Republican, signed on as a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in Nashville’s federal court.

“I was shocked to learn about this new law which allows someone other than me to determine if I am a bona fide member of a political party without clear criteria as to what that term means,” Ashe said in a statement released by the League of Women Voters of Tennessee.

“At times, I have been critical of the actions of some elected Republicans, and I now learn party officials — without defining the conditions of party membership — could not only challenge my ability to vote but also seek to have me criminally prosecuted for voting in the primary where I have voted all my adult life.”

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