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Tennessee election officials asking more than 14,000 voters to prove citizenship

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Tennessee election officials asking more than 14,000 voters to prove citizenship
News

News

Tennessee election officials asking more than 14,000 voters to prove citizenship

2024-06-26 06:26 Last Updated At:06:30

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's top election office has sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation.

The letters, dated June 13, warned that it is illegal in Tennessee for noncitizens to vote and provided instructions on how to update voter information. The list was developed after comparing voter rolls with data from the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said Doug Kufner, spokesperson for the Secretary of State's office, in a statement Tuesday.

Kufner described the data from the state's homeland security department as a “snapshot” of a person's first interaction with that agency. Some may not have been U.S. citizens when they obtained a driver's license or ID card but have since been naturalized and “likely did not update their records," he said. Driver's licenses in Tennessee must be renewed every eight years.

“Accurate voter rolls are a vital component to ensuring election integrity, and Tennessee law makes it clear that only eligible voters are allowed to participate in Tennessee elections,” Kufner said.

The letter does not, however, reveal what would happen to those who do not update their records — including whether people who fail to respond will be purged from the voter rolls. Kufner did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarity on if voters were at risk of being removed.

Instead, the letter contains warnings that illegal voting is a felony and carries penalties of up to two years in prison.

Voting rights advocates began raising the alarm after photos of the letter started circulating on social media. Democrats have long criticized the Secretary of State's office for its stances on voting issues in the Republican-dominant state.

“The fact legal citizens of the United States and residents of Tennessee are being accused of not being eligible to vote is an affront to democracy," said state Rep. Jason Powell, a Democrat from Nashville, in a statement. “These fine Tennesseans are being burdened with re-proving their own voter eligibility and threatened with imprisonment in a scare tactic reminiscent of Jim Crow laws.”

Powell and fellow Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons on Tuesday urged Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti to investigate the issue.

Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat from Knoxville, said she was informed that one of the letter recipients included a “respected scientist in Oak Ridge” who had become a citizen and registered to vote in 2022.

“Maybe the state should verify citizenship with the federal government before sending threatening/intimidating letters to new citizens,” Johnson posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Other leaders encouraged those who received a letter to reach out to the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee for possible legal resources.

"It is surely capturing many, many, many eligible citizens on the rolls and threatening them with criminal prosecution," said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law. “I think it’s unconscionable. And I think that it likely violates a number of federal laws as well.”

The effort bears some resemblance to the rollout of a sweeping Texas voting law passed in 2021, in which thousands of Texans — including some U.S. citizens — received letters saying they have been flagged as potential noncitizens who could be kicked off voting rolls.

Texas officials had just settled a lawsuit in 2019 after a prior search for ineligible voters flagged nearly 100,000 registered voters but wrongly captured naturalized citizens. A federal judge who halted the search the month after it began noted that only about 80 people to that point had been identified as potentially ineligible to vote.

FILE - A "vote here" sign is seen at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center, Aug. 1, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tennessee's top election office sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

FILE - A "vote here" sign is seen at the Brainerd Youth and Family Development Center, Aug. 1, 2020, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Tennessee's top election office sent letters to more than 14,000 registered voters asking them to prove their citizenship, a move that alarmed voting rights advocates as possible intimidation. (C.B. Schmelter/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP, File)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington to address Congress on Wednesday. He has signaled that a cease-fire deal could be taking shape after nine months of war.

Palestinians displaced by the Israeli military’s latest order to leave parts of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis say they are sleeping in the streets. The Health Ministry in Gaza says over 39,100 Palestinians have been killed in the war.

On Thursday, officials from Egypt, Israel, the United States and Qatar will meet in Doha with the aim of resuming talks for a proposed three-phase cease-fire to end the war between Israel and Hamas and free the remaining hostages.

Here’s the latest:

TULKAREM, West Bank — Hundreds of mourners have attended the funeral of two people killed during an Israeli raid in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem that killed six people, at least three of them known militants. The bodies of Iman Juma’a, a 50-year-old woman, and Yazan Abdo, a 30-year-old man, were carried through the streets.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military released footage of a person dressed as a woman wearing a paramedic vest and holding a gun, but did not show the person’s face. The video could not be independently verified by the AP, and the military did not provide any further evidence.

At the funeral, the body of Juma’a was covered with a paramedic jacket.

Tulkarem and its two refugee camps have become a flashpoint in the West Bank and are regularly raided by Israeli forces. Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are active in the city.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s far-right national security minister says Jews are allowed to pray at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, threatening to stoke tensions that are already soaring over the war in Gaza.

Itamar Ben-Gvir has said before it's his policy that Jews should be able to pray at the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But his statement on Wednesday comes at a politically sensitive time, hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress in Washington.

Netanyahu’s office quickly released a statement saying nothing had changed in the decades-old arrangement that prohibits Jewish prayer at the site.

“I am the political echelon and the political echelon permits Jewish prayer there,” Ben Gvir said during a conference focused on Jewish access to the compound.

Since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Mideast war, Jews have been allowed to visit but not pray there. Perceived encroachments have set off widespread violence on a number of occasions going back decades.

JERUSALEM — Billionaire Elon Musk in a statement on X says his satellite internet service Starlink is active for a hospital in Gaza, as the besieged territory has faced months of communication issues.

Israel’s Communication Ministry said the service has been in use at the Emirati-run field hospital in Rafah in southern Gaza for the past six months, and they were unclear why Musk mentioned it Wednesday.

During a visit to Israel in November, Musk met with Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomi Karhi and agreed that Starlink would operate in Gaza only with approval from the Israeli government. In February, the ministry announced that Starlink would be available at certain hospitals in Gaza for videoconferencing.

Gaza has experienced frequent communications blackouts as the infrastructure crumbles with months of fighting and a lack of fuel.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — The Gaza Health Ministry says the bodies of 55 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours.

Hospitals also received 110 wounded, the ministry said Wednesday. The ministry doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.

The overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war rose to at least 39,145, the ministry said, and another 90,257 have been wounded.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

BEIRUT — An Israeli delegation will head to Cairo on Wednesday for negations with Egyptian officials, according to Lebanon’s daily Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. According to Egyptian sources, the negotiations will focus on the Rafah border crossing and Philadelphi corridor.

On Thursday, officials from Egypt, Israel, the United States and Qatar will meet in Doha with the aim of resuming talks for a proposed three-phase cease-fire to end the war between Israel and Hamas, Al-Akhbar said. It added that Egyptian and Qatari mediators see that the first phase of the deal is close but they are concerned that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might destroy a possible deal in the final hours.

A spokesperson for Netanyahu’s office confirmed that a delegation is expected in Cairo.

BEIRUT — An umbrella group of Iran-backed factions in Iraq says it has carried out an attack with drones on “a vital target” in the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq said the early Wednesday attack comes in retaliation for what it called Israel’s massacres in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said its air force shot down two drones that were flying toward Israel from the east. It added that the drones did not enter Israel’s air space.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for scores of attacks against Israel in recent months, but most of the drones were shot down before reaching their targets. A drone attack by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi last week rebels killed one person in the center of Tel Aviv and wounded at least 10 others near the United States Embassy.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Iman Juma'a, 50, covered with a paramedic Jacket during her funeral in the occupied West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem, Wednesday, July 24, 2024. Iman Juma'a was killed during an Israeli raid in the northern West Bank City of Tulkarem, which killed six people, at least three of whom were known militants. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Iman Juma'a, 50, covered with a paramedic Jacket during her funeral in the occupied West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem, Wednesday, July 24, 2024. Iman Juma'a was killed during an Israeli raid in the northern West Bank City of Tulkarem, which killed six people, at least three of whom were known militants. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Palestinian women inspect their property damaged following an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem, in Tulkarem, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Palestinian women inspect their property damaged following an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank refugee camp of Tulkarem, in Tulkarem, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

A man walks past a mural in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024 depicting the U.S. president Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

A man walks past a mural in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024 depicting the U.S. president Joe Biden as a superhero defending Israel. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Eliya, holds an photo of her grandfather Alex Dancyg, who died, according to the Israeli military, after been kidnapped by the Hamas militant group, during a rally calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Eliya, holds an photo of her grandfather Alex Dancyg, who died, according to the Israeli military, after been kidnapped by the Hamas militant group, during a rally calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

An Israeli military helicopter releases flares over the Israel-Gaza border as seen from southern Israel Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

An Israeli military helicopter releases flares over the Israel-Gaza border as seen from southern Israel Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israeli troops are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israeli troops are seen near the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel-Hamas war latest: Netanyahu is in Washington to address Congress ahead of cease-fire talks

Israel-Hamas war latest: Netanyahu is in Washington to address Congress ahead of cease-fire talks

Israel-Hamas war latest: Netanyahu is in Washington to address Congress ahead of cease-fire talks

Israel-Hamas war latest: Netanyahu is in Washington to address Congress ahead of cease-fire talks

Smoke rises following an explosion in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. The army is battling Palestinian militants across Gaza in the war ignited by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into Israel. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Smoke rises following an explosion in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, July 23, 2024. The army is battling Palestinian militants across Gaza in the war ignited by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into Israel. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

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