New Bill Would Require Proof of Citizenship for Voter Registration

A bill that would require a person to prove his citizenship when he registers to vote comes up in a state House of Representatives subcommittee this week.

Representative Eric Watson wants to find a way for the state election officials to match registered voters’ names against citizenship proof – like Social Security numbers. He says county election officials in his district complain about increasing numbers of voters who raise the officials’ suspicions.

“They don’t have driver’s licenses, for one…they’re brought in with an interpreter, and you know, it just pops up red flags, it just pops up a lot of red flags.”

The Republican from Cleveland, Tennessee says he’s not trying to target specific ethnic minorities. The two cases he knows of where citizens of another country were charged with improperly registering to vote involved Canadians.

The General Assembly has treated such bills as partisan issues in the past. Republicans pushed for tighter controls, while Democrats argued that such measures tend to disenfranchise people who may not have proper ID, like the poor and elderly.

The bill faces its first hurdle in the House Elections Subcommittee Tuesday.

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The measure has essentially the same language as other bills also filed last year. All require either a passport or a birth certificate to prove citizenship for a person registering to vote.

But it makes allowance for older persons who may not be able to find their original paperwork, he says.

“I got people in my family that’s U.S. citizens that’s older, senior citizens, and they can’t find their birth certificates either. However the bill does says that them people would be grandfathered in, if they was already registered to vote. This bill would just only affect the new people that was going to register after July the first, two thousand ten.”

Watson says he will change the language in the bill to make it something that doesn’t make it more difficult for people to vote.

He wants to increase the penalty for falsely claiming to be a citizen for purposes of voting.

Watson says he’s trying to avoid a Republican-versus-Democrat showdown. But to pass, the measure must gain the approval of committee in the House which are split 50-50 – half Democrat and half Republican.

The bill is due in the House Elections Subcommittee after noon Tuesday in Legislative Plaza Room 16.

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