Tennessee Sends Letters to Over 14K People Seeking Proof of Citizenship: ‘It’s Voter Intimidation’

Tennessee election officials sent letters this month to over 14,000 individuals asking them to verify their U.S. citizenship in what one Democratic state legislator is calling an attempt to intimidate voters.

The letter from the Tennessee secretary of state’s (R) office was sent to individuals whose records appear to reflect that they aren’t U.S. citizens, according to a copy obtained by Democracy Docket.

Signed by Tennessee Elections Coordinator Mark Goins, the letter says that voting in local, state and federal elections is illegal under state law. Goins also asks noncitizens to use an enclosed form to request that their name be removed from the voter roll; U.S. citizens are asked to provide a copy of a birth certificate, U.S. passport or other listed form of documentation to confirm citizenship.

The letter comes as Republicans across the country have been pushing against noncitizen voting, which is already illegal in federal elections. 

“At its core it is voter intimidation,” said Tennessee state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who’s running for U.S. Senate. Johnson told Democracy Docket that one of her constituents received a notice even though he became a U.S. citizen in 2022.

The Knoxville Democrat also questioned whether it was lawful for Goins’s office to send the letters. Tennessee law requires the elections coordinator to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety database to ensure noncitizens aren’t registered to vote.

But if there’s evidence that a registered voter isn’t a U.S. citizen, the law requires the elections coordinator to notify the county election commission where the person registered to vote, and the commission must then alert the registered voter. “He has no power to notify the citizens themselves,” Johnson said. 

Goins has not responded to Democracy Docket’s request for an interview.

On Monday, Tennessee House Minority Leader Karen Camper sent a letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office about the notice, seeking clarification on the legal basis for the notice and what the secretary of state’s office plans to do with the identifying information submitted from people confirming their citizenship. 

In response, Goins cited Tennessee law but didn’t address the process of informing individuals that they may be purged. Goins wrote that his office sent 14,375 letters last week, and acknowledges that the information they used could be outdated. He said the letters are an opportunity for individuals to correct their voting record. 

It’s unclear in Goins’s letter what would happen if the recipient fails to “correct the record.” Tennessee law allows for the purging of individuals from voter rolls under certain circumstances — such as a voter moving to a different jurisdiction — but the process involves the county election commissioner.

Goins’s efforts are emblematic of Tennessee’s restrictive voting laws and practices, Johnson said, referencing a recent report that ranked Tennessee last in the nation for voter turnout, using data from 2022. “Tennessee voters are tired of this,” she said, “they’re tired of the extremism.”