published Monday, March 12th, 2012

Ex-congressman Lincoln Davis sues State of Tennessee after being denied vote

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis speaks about his lawsuit seeking to restore purged voters during a news conference in Nashville on Monday. Davis was prevented from voting in Tennessee's Super Tuesday primary after being purged from the rolls in Fentress County. At rear is Davis' attorney, George Barrett.
Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis speaks about his lawsuit seeking to restore purged voters during a news conference in Nashville on Monday. Davis was prevented from voting in Tennessee's Super Tuesday primary after being purged from the rolls in Fentress County. At rear is Davis' attorney, George Barrett.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday against three Tennessee officials, alleging his voting rights were violated when he was turned away at the polls on Super Tuesday.

Davis, a Democrat who represented the state's 4th Congressional District from 2003 to 2011, was told he couldn't vote at his Pall Mall, Tenn., polling place after an election worker could not find his name on the list of registered voters on March 6, the suit alleges. Davis never received notice from the government that his name had been purged from the rolls and never requested removal, the suit said.

"This lawsuit is not about me," Davis said in a statement. "Rather, I'm taking this action to ensure that the State of Tennessee is required to restore all Tennesseans to the voting rolls whose names were improperly removed."

Davis said he wants the court to rule that the state's actions were improper and to require the state to restore any eligible voters improperly purged since state Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins took office in February 2009. More than 70,000 voters were purged from the state's rolls during six months of 2011, the suit said.

His suit names Gov. Bill Haslam, Secretary of State Tré Hargett and Goins.

On Monday, Goins said Davis ignored advice to cast a provisional ballot on Super Tuesday. At least two calls to Davis came from the state Division of Elections office on March 6, Goins said.

"I begged him to go, quite frankly," Goins said. "He started going into the 2010 election when he lost."

Davis, who lives in Fentress County, said no one at the polling place offered him a provisional ballot or explained he had the right to cast one. The lawsuit says both the Fentress County Administrator of Elections and Goins later contacted Davis to encourage him to register and cast a provisional ballot.

Davis did not return to the polls on election night and says in the suit that state law requires a voter to be registered to vote at least 30 days before an election.

Davis is represented by the law firm Barrett Johnston. Attorney George Barrett is asking the court to fast-track the discovery period in the case.

"There's an election in August, and we want it straightened out before then if at all possible," he said.

Davis is seeking class-action certification -- when multiple plaintiffs with similar claims are joined in one suit -- and hopes to find other voters whose names might have been wrongly purged, although he doesn't specifically name other plaintiffs. He argues that identifying those who also have been or will be similarly turned away at the polls would be impractical.

Goins, whose office is attached to the secretary of state's for administrative matters, said Monday that the Davis situation resulted from a clerical error.

"It was an isolated situation," Goins said. "We said we're sorry, and we are. We reinstated him literally the next day after."

Barrett said there are too many clerical errors.

"Voting is a basic constitutional right," he said. "It's not to be taken lightly. There's nothing more fundamental to a democratic society than citizen participation."

Haslam spokesman David Smith declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said he plans to ask the Hamilton County Election Commission to join the suit challenging the state's purge.

Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at ahaman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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