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Tennessee Governor Bill Lee recently signed a new law that could potentially strip Tennesseans’ rights to vote if they protest on state property. It’s one of the latest forms of voter suppression Republicans are trying to implement.
The new law, which was signed on August 23, states that any protestor who is found protesting on state property overnight can be arrested and charged with a Class E Felony, Time reported. For over two months, protestors stood outside the Tennessee Capitol building doors to protest against police brutality.
Those who are convicted can face up to six years in prison and have their voting rights taken away. The House approved the bill 71-20, according to the Tennessean.
“I think what we saw was a courthouse on fire and businesses being broken into and vehicles being damaged. We saw lawlessness that needed to be addressed immediately. And that was done so,” Lee told reporters, according to the Associated Press.
Tennessee Rep. Jason Hodges told the Tennessean that earlier this year, gun rights supporters who were carrying rifles gathered outside of the Capitol earlier this year. He noted their protesting did not draw a large police presence, and the area where the protestors stood is now blocked off.
“We seem not to worry about protesting when white people show up with AR-15s," Hodges told the publication. "But when Black people show up with signs, we try to pass legislation ... maybe that’s why they’re out there in the first place."
This isn’t the first time Republicans have moved to suppress the vote. In fact, the GOP has a long history of voter suppression.
In 2013, during the case Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court gutted a part of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racist voter discrimination to receive federal approval before it changed its voting laws. The case focused mainly on states in the South, including Alaska.
Following the death of civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, Democrats have pushed to restore a key part of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which Lewis fought for. Republicans leaders in the Senate, however, have refused to do so.
As Democrats push for the part of the act that needs to be restored, some Republicans continue to promote the idea that voter suppression of Black voters does not exist. During an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there is no need for Congress to place federal oversight on decisions regarding local elections because Black voters no longer face voter suppression.
“There’s very little tangible evidence of this whole voter suppression nonsense that the Democrats are promoting,” McConnell told the news outlet. “My prediction is African-American voters will turn out in as large a percentage as whites, if not more so, all across the country.”
In the latest episode of America the Voiceless, hosts Maria Elena Perez and Nikki Rojas talk about the history of Black voter suppression with historian Dr. Carol Anderson. The episode is now available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.