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Racial Profiling on Tennessee Voter Reg Cards

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Category: News and Politics

The state of Tennessee places a box on its voter registration form for "RACE" -- this is marked "optional", but on some county Web sites, like Tipton County,
they add pressure to complete every item by printing, and highlighting, the words "omitting information produces rejected application" right under the form.

That statement would not be a problem if the "race" box was not on the card, and if the felony indicator blank was correctly designed.

Here's a copy of the Tennessee voter registration card as of this posting:

Tennessee voter registration card

The felony indicator blank is incorrectly designed because it comes at the end of a string of blanks on which the voter says "yes", but then requires a "no" answer. This design is likely to produce false "yes" responses.

Of particular concern is the situation where others are doing registration drives. It may say "optional" on the race indicator but the often partisan groups that do the registration drives may use a policy of filling it in. Also, if the fill-in the blanks are delivered orally and rapidly, again, this may elicit false "yes" on the felony indicator due to the string of "yes" responses that preceed it.

Inclusion of racial profiling characteristics, whether optional or not, is highly inappropriate because it enables more precise targeting of ethnic groups for vote suppression, and even targeted voting machine programming fraud. In Florida, another state that has had racial profiling information on its voter registration cards, over 90,000 voters were purged from the rolls in 2000, and these purges were disproportionately Black citizens.

Tennessee is obstructive with Freedom of Information records. Unlike most states, which recognize the right of "any person" and "the public" to review documents, Tennessee requires residency in the state to obtain or inspect its records.

Citizens will need to apply pressure to get the racial profile information off the voter registration card forms, but even if they do, racial profiling is highly likely to have crept into the statewide voter registration database. Residents of Tennessee who are concerned about this can seek to inspect documents and should request the field codes and data input training manuals to determine the extent to which:

1) Racial profiling has been inserted into the Tennessee statewide voter registration database


2) Whether there are any indications that voters have been targeted for purges, changes in polling location, or any other actions that correlate with racial profiling information in Tennessee's voter list.


Over the past eight years we have documented a steady stream of problems with voters who somehow don't show up as registered. Federal law now requires elections workers to provide "provisional ballots" to voters not recognized as registered voters, but these are second-class ballots, because they are not counted on Election Night, they are never considered by the media when "calling the race", and they are often rejected several days later (when they finally are looked at) due to reasons beyond the voter's control.

For example, in Volusia County, Florida a citizen had to fight like crazy to get a set of ballots counted -- officials were trying to reject them because a poll worker had not written the reason they were provisional on the envelope. And Pennsylvania, another swing state, allows its elections officials to add an impediment to giving out provisional ballots at all. Several counties in the state of Pennsylvania were documented, during the primary, saying they had to "call for permission" before giving out provisional ballots, and of course when they called, the lines were always busy.

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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.
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