State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins’ office said Monday that a review of voter registration lists and the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s database found just 14 “potential non-citizens” on Davidson County’s voter rolls, reports The Tennessean.
Just one of those 14 people had ever voted, and that was sometime before 2012, said Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for the Tennessee Division of Elections.
The state’s finding contradicts the estimate put forth last month by Steve Abernathy, a Republican who will soon give up his seat on the Davidson County Election Commission. At the commission’s March 21 meeting, Abernathy said there could be 3,000 to 10,000 non-citizens in the county who managed to register to vote at the Department of Safety through the so-called motor voter law.
At the same meeting, Abernathy joined the four other commissioners in voting to rescind his own plan to review the citizenship status of foreign-born voters who registered to vote after March 1. Metro attorneys said the plan could violate both the motor voter law and the 14th Amendment by creating two classes of voters and subjecting one group to greater scrutiny.
Legislation making it a crime for United Nations representatives to observe elections in Tennessee has suffered a setback in the House while a bill banning all noncitizens from polling places has won approval in the Senate.
Rep. James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said he introduced HB589 after learning the U.N. sent observers to Nashville for last November’s election to monitor for “human rights violations.” It makes election observation by a U.N. representative punishable as a misdemeanor.
News reports indicate a total of 44 U.N. observers were dispatched to the United States last fall, partly out of concern over laws requiring a photo ID for voting. One of those sent to Nashville was from France and the other from Armenia.
Van Huss’ bill had cleared the House Local Government Committee by voice vote after about 10 minutes of discussion with Democrats questioning the idea and Republicans generally praising it.
“The United Nations has no business in our polling places telling us anything,” declared Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga.
“If they’re looking for human rights violations, they’ve got hundreds of countries they can go to instead of America.”
But when the bill got to the House Calendar Committee, which routinely approves bills for the House floor with little discussion, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he has “constitutional questions” about the measure. He made a motion to refer the measure to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Thompson’s Station and Rep. Matthew Hill, chairman of the Local Government Committee, both objected to the move. Casada said “this is kind of unprecedented” and Hill said the bill had already been “fully vetted” in his committee and a subcommittee.
But Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he believed there was “no ill will” on Lundberg’s part and it was appropriate to resolve any questions before a measure is sent to the floor. Lundberg’s motion carried and the bill goes to his committee this week.
The Senate, also last week, approved 24-3 a bill by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, (SB549) that prohibits people who are not citizens of the United States from entering a polling place in Tennessee.
The House companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, is up in the House Local Government Subcommittee later this week.
The United Nations wasn’t mentioned in Senate debate.
Bell said the bill was motivated by his belief in “American exceptionalism” and protecting the integrity of the ballot box. The bill includes a provision saying a noncitizen may enter a polling place to “provide assistance” to a qualified voter, which Bell said could include an interpreter or someone helping a voter with a disability.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, asked Bell if the bill would ban people from other countries observing elections to learn about democracy and how it works.
Bell said it would, though he said such people could still observe political campaigns and visit election facilities before voting day.
Van Huss was asked a similar question by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, in the House Local Government Committee. Van Huss said he agreed with Ronald Reagan that “America is a shining city on a hill” for the rest of the world and his bill would not impact such observers because it is “specifically directed at the United Nations.”