People cast their ballots during early voting at a community center October 25, 2018 in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
People cast their ballots during early voting at a community center October 25, 2018 in Potomac, Maryland, two weeks ahead of the key US midterm polls. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Here's why it might be harder for you to vote
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks to reporters as she arrives for the continuation of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The next phase of the trial, in which senators will be allowed to ask written questions, will extend into tomorrow. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaks to reporters as she arrives for the continuation of the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The next phase of the trial, in which senators will be allowed to ask written questions, will extend into tomorrow. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Now playing
04:08
Murkowski explains why she's voting for Biden nominee
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the White House in Washington, after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Evan Vucci/AP
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, speaks Tuesday, April 20, 2021, at the White House in Washington, after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Now playing
03:01
'A step forward': Biden speaks after Chauvin's guilty verdict
CNN's Eli Honig explains how much time former police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, could face after he was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case of George Floyd.
CNN
CNN's Eli Honig explains how much time former police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, could face after he was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case of George Floyd.
Now playing
03:25
Here's the sentence Derek Chauvin could face after guilty verdict
CNN's Van Jones reacts to Attorney General Merrick Garland's announcement that the Justice Department has launched a federal civil probe into policing practices in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd and the murder convictions for ex-cop Derek Chauvin.
CNN
CNN's Van Jones reacts to Attorney General Merrick Garland's announcement that the Justice Department has launched a federal civil probe into policing practices in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd and the murder convictions for ex-cop Derek Chauvin.
Now playing
03:08
Van Jones reacts to Justice Department's Minneapolis police probe
CNN
Now playing
03:14
'Performative outrage': Avlon on GOP backlash to Rep. Waters
Two Honduran children found clinging to an island surrounded by a powerful current in the Rio Grande were rescued by Border Patrol agents and taken into custody, the region's top border official said, the latest example of the dangers migrants face as a growing number desperately attempt to reach the US.
U.S. Border Patrol
Two Honduran children found clinging to an island surrounded by a powerful current in the Rio Grande were rescued by Border Patrol agents and taken into custody, the region's top border official said, the latest example of the dangers migrants face as a growing number desperately attempt to reach the US.
Now playing
02:22
See Border Patrol rescue 2 migrant children in Rio Grande
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images
Biden speaks from the Treaty Room in the White House on April 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
02:59
Enten: Biden is focused on what Americans care about
CNN
Now playing
02:40
Biden says he's praying for 'right verdict' in Chauvin trial
ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 6:  Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale concedes the election to his Republican opponent Norm Coleman November 6, 2002 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mondale and Coleman were in a race for U.S. Senate that was too close to call the evening before.  (Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images)
Mark Erickson/Getty Images
ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 6: Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale concedes the election to his Republican opponent Norm Coleman November 6, 2002 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mondale and Coleman were in a race for U.S. Senate that was too close to call the evening before. (Photo by Mark Erickson/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:00
Walter Mondale dies at 93
george w bush congress immigration rhetoric cbs intv sot mxp vpx_00000000.png
george w bush congress immigration rhetoric cbs intv sot mxp vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
01:25
Bush calls on Congress to tone down 'harsh rhetoric' on immigration
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence" on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Many senators spoke both for and against gun control the day after a shooting in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman opened fire at a grocery store, killing ten people. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence" on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Many senators spoke both for and against gun control the day after a shooting in Boulder, Colorado where a gunman opened fire at a grocery store, killing ten people. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:18
Berman on Cruz's latest tweet: 'The pot calling the kettle violent'
Now playing
01:57
Chuck Hagel criticizes Trump's statement on Afghanistan
gun laws shootings Comer pamela brown nr vpx _00015627.png
CNN
gun laws shootings Comer pamela brown nr vpx _00015627.png
Now playing
02:23
'I can't answer that': Kentucky lawmaker responds to CNN on gun policy
Now playing
02:39
National security adviser: Russia will face consequences if Navalny dies in prison
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol on February 5, 2021 in Washington, DC. The House voted 230 to 199 on Friday evening to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from committee assignments over her remarks about QAnon and other conspiracy theories.
Now playing
03:20
Marjorie Taylor Greene lashes out at media after backlash over controversial caucus
(CNN) —  

Tennessee has one of the lowest voter registration rates in the country, according to Pew’s Election Performance Index. Soon, it could get a lot harder to help people there register to vote.

Tennessee has a registration rate of 78.52%. While that would be a passing grade at school, it puts Tennessee at 45th among the 50 states for its voter registration rate.

A bill currently making its way through the Tennessee legislature would impose new restrictions on groups that hold voter registration drives and subject them to potential jail time and massive fines.

Under one of the provisions, individuals or organizations that submit 100 to 500 “deficient” voter registration applications, meaning forms that are incomplete or contain incorrect information, could be hit with a $150 to $2,000 fine. Submitting more than 500 “deficient” forms could result in a fine of up to $10,000.

Forms would have to be delivered or mailed within 10 days of being collected, or by the state’s voter registration deadline. Tennessee cuts off voter registration at 30 days before election day.

The bill would also make it more difficult to hold a voter registration drive in the first place.

Voters cast their ballots at Franklin Community of Faith Church of the Nazarene on November 6, 2018.  (Brandon Dill for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Brandon Dill/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Voters cast their ballots at Franklin Community of Faith Church of the Nazarene on November 6, 2018. (Brandon Dill for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Before holding a drive, an organization registering 100 or more people would have to: provide the county elections coordinator with contact information for the people conducting the drive, notify the coordinator about where the drive is being held, complete voter registration training through the elections coordinator and file a sworn statement stating it’ll abide by all voter registration laws and procedures.

Violating any of those rules “intentionally and knowingly” would constitute a Class A misdemeanor – the most serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

The rules wouldn’t apply to volunteers who sign up voters or to organizations that rely solely on volunteers to register voters. But the law is vague about what organizations count as having paid staff.

In the Tennessee state Senate, the bill has made its way through local and state committee and has been referred to the calendar committee for scheduling. In the state House, it has advanced through committees and is on the calendar for April 15.

Scholars and civil rights groups raise alarm

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, whose office is behind the legislation, wrote in an op-ed for the Tennessean that the law is intended to preserve the integrity of the election process.

“While we strive to register Tennesseans to vote, it must be done responsibly and in a manner that does not compromise the security of elections,” Hargett wrote. “Groups that seek to register large numbers of voters, while typically doing so with good intentions, potentially put legitimate voter registrations at risk.”

But scholars and civil rights groups argue that the law targets disenfranchised communities and say it would have a chilling effect on those trying to help others vote.

“Voter registration drives have long been used to empower communities that are historically disenfranchised, including students, immigrants, people of color and seniors,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee told CNN. “This legislation would inhibit access to the ballot and undermine civic engagement.”

Sekou Franklin, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University, called the proposed law “draconian” and said it was a response to heightened mobilization among African-American voters in the last election.

“You don’t jail people for trying to politically participate in a democratic way unless you have other motives,” Franklin said.

Franklin said he was troubled that individuals and organizations could potentially incur fines for inconsistencies or errors in voter registration forms.

“There’s always deficient applications,” Franklin said. “If you’re an organization and you register three or four thousand voters, and you have 100 deficient applications, that could be a $10,000 hit. That’s a one percent rate.”

In his op-ed, Hargett wrote that deficient applications cost the two largest counties in the state thousands of taxpayer dollars. In Shelby County, the election administrator estimated the cost to be more than $200,000. In Davidson County, the administrator said it cost $35,000 to process and correct forms with insufficient information.

Hargett also cited a last-minute surge in voter registration applications as reason for requiring forms to be submitted within 10 days of collection.

Activist calls the bill a direct attack

Tequila Johnson, co-founder of The Equity Alliance and a manager in last year's elections for the Tennessee Black Voter Project, talks to reporters in Nashville on April 2. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)
Jonathan Mattise/AP
Tequila Johnson, co-founder of The Equity Alliance and a manager in last year's elections for the Tennessee Black Voter Project, talks to reporters in Nashville on April 2. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

Tequila Johnson says the bill is a direct attack on the work done by the Tennessee Black Voter Project, for which she served as a statewide manager in the last election. The project was a coordinated effort across several organizations and turned in about 90,000 voter registration applications last year. It also focused on educating voters and building coalitions.

“This project highlighted some really, really big topics here in the state and brought a lot of people together across party lines, across race lines,” she said. “And I personally think that that is a threat for what our state stands for right now.”

Even though the bill could subject her to potential fines and other consequences if passed, Johnson said it wouldn’t discourage her from working on voter registration.

“It would be cowardly of me to give up now because Tre Hargett wants to figure out how to continuously oppress young people, people of color, women and elderly people’s right to vote.”

Hargett’s office has not yet returned a phone call for comment.

CNN’s Madeline Holcombe contributed to this report.