Media Contact

ACLU of Tennessee, 
Advocates for Immigrant Rights, 
American Muslim Advisory Council, 
API Middle Tennessee, 
Campaign Legal Center, 
Conexión Américas, 
The Equity Alliance, 
League of Women Voters Tennessee, 
Nashville Chapter of the NAACP, 
Organize Tennessee, 
Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors (TNJFON), 
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC),

June 27, 2024

Unconstitutional Letters Sent to Naturalized Citizens Amount to Voter Intimidation 

June 27, 2024 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today numerous advocacy organizations sent a demand letter to Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett informing them that the voter list maintenance program they initiated by sending 14,375 letters to registered voters threatening criminal prosecution for illegal voting and demanding that they verify their U.S. citizenship is unconstitutional and violates federal law. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the national American Civil Liberties Union and Campaign Legal Center sent the letter, on behalf of Advocates for Immigrant Rights, the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee, API Middle Tennessee, Civic TN, Conexión Américas, The Equity Alliance, the Nashville Chapter of the NAACP, Organize Tennessee, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors and the League of Women Voters Tennessee. 

Recipients of the coordinator of elections’ June 13 letter included naturalized citizens who have already affirmed their citizenship and eligibility to vote when they registered. 

“Historically, in Tennessee and throughout the South, voters of color have been harassed, taxed and beaten for seeking to exercise their basic voting rights,” said Jeff Preptit, ACLU of Tennessee staff attorney. “This letter has had the distinct effect of intimidating and dissuading naturalized citizens from exercising their right to vote, perpetuating this shameful legacy of voter suppression. The coordinator of elections must cease implementation of this unconstitutional effort immediately and assure voters that they have the right to vote as normal, or we’ll have no choice but to challenge his actions in court.” 

“Tennessee is trying to make it harder for voters to exercise their most fundamental right, using methods that courts across the country have already repeatedly rejected,” said Theresa J. Lee, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Putting up these sorts of roadblocks based on voters’ race and national origin has no place in our democracy. Courts have held this before, and if the coordinator of elections doesn’t reverse course, we are confident the courts in Tennessee will do so again.” 

The advocates’ letter asserts that the voter list maintenance program’s requirement that letter recipients submit copies of birth certificates, passports and naturalization documentation when other voters are not subject to these requirements imposes a discriminatory burden on voters based on their race and national origin, in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act.

The June 13 letter intimidates voters by imposing a heavier burden on naturalized citizens, warning about criminal prosecution, and remaining silent on whether a voter’s registration would be purged, further violating the U.S. Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and other federal laws. This ambiguity left letter recipients guessing about the consequences of the letter and whether they would be criminally prosecuted for voting. 

The state’s program also violates the National Voter Registration Act’s requirement that states complete any programs aimed at removing ineligible voters from the official voter lists at least 90 days before a primary or general election for federal offices. The June 13 letter was sent just 29 days before early voting begins. 

“There is no place in our democracy for state-sponsored voter intimidation, including by demanding that naturalized citizens ‘show their papers’ to prove they are sufficiently American after they have already affirmed their citizenship through the voter registration process,” said Jonathan Diaz, director of voting advocacy and partnerships at Campaign Legal Center. “The freedom to vote should be accessible to every American, regardless of where they were born. Tennessee’s use of unreliable data to target and harass new Americans into canceling their voter registration is textbook voter intimidation disguised as list maintenance and only aims to sow fear among voters.” 

The advocacy groups demand that Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett cease all actions that perpetuate voter intimidation and violate the U.S Constitution and federal law. Advocates are also seeking issuance of a public statement declaring that no person will be removed from Tennessee’s voter rolls in relation to the June 13 letters and the sending of new letters to the June 13 letter recipients confirming that their voter registration will not be purged and that they have the right to vote as normal. Finally, advocates seek the release of all records related to the development and implementation of the voter list maintenance program.

If these violations are not remedied forthwith, the ACLU of Tennessee and the ACLU will challenge the voter list maintenance program in court. 

Federal courts have found similar voter maintenance programs in Florida, Texas and Arizona to be unlawful. 

The demand letter can be found here: