“I have not seen another state do another version of ‘Oh my god, I’m losing the chess game, throw the board over and completely reset it,'” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who focuses on election law, and a CNN contributor. “I have not seen another state step onto the dance floor with this aggression.”
State Supreme Court ruling
In a critical Tennessee Supreme Court ruling earlier this month, the court ruled that the state did not have to expand absentee voting to anyone concerned about contracting coronavirus, but said the state’s decision to allow those who are at higher risk of contracting the virus to vote absentee was sufficient.
Several states have expanded absentee voting in the past few months to allow people who are concerned about contracting Covid-19 by voting in person to instead vote-by-mail. Tennessee is one of six states that still requires an excuse in order to cast a ballot by mail this fall.
“That in itself is an intimidating statement to put on an application, especially when we know that voter fraud is so rare and not happening,” Weinberg said.
New law makes camping on state property a felony
The Tennessee governor signed a new law last week that makes it a class E felony to camp on state property, increasing the punishment for the offense. If you are convicted with a felony in Tennessee, you lose the right to vote.
Over the past two months, protesters have been camping out at the Tennessee state capitol grounds in response to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police in June, according to American Civil Liberties Union Tennessee executive director Hedy Weinberg.
The bill’s sponsor, Lamberth, said at the same news conference that the bill was to crack down on “criminal elements” and protect law enforcement officers.
“To do that, to pass that law, six weeks before a national presidential election, when folks have been out camping and protesting for two months, again raises the specter of why are you passing a law in Tennessee that clearly will disenfranchise people were they convicted,” Weinberg said.
A class E felony is the lowest level of felony in the state, but anyone convicted of a felony in Tennessee loses the right to vote, Weinberg added.
While the state Supreme Court decision ultimately impacts more voters, the criminal justice law targets a specific group of people, according to Levinson.
“Tennessee has this law that looks neutral on its face. You want to punish protesters who harm state property. That on its own sounds like it has absolutely nothing to do with the election, and it will be a felony, and therefore you cannot vote, and therefore you cannot vote in the election as a felon,” Levinson said. “This is not imagining it. It is a way to target certain people and make sure they can’t vote, which is an incredibly effective way of trying to pre-determine outcomes.”
CNN’s Kelly Mena and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.