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Former congressman files voting rights lawsuit

By Sheila Burke

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 12 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis speaks about his lawsuit seeking restore purged voters during a news conference in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, March 12, 2012. 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.

Erik Schelzig, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis filed a federal class-action lawsuit Monday against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and two other top state officials seeking voting rights restored to him and others he says were wrongfully purged from the rolls.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Nashville, comes days after the Democrat was not allowed to vote in the primary because of a registration mix-up.

Speaking at a news conference at Legislative Plaza Monday, the former four-term congressman said he thought it was a simple mistake and no one deliberately tried to keep him from voting.

"But if we're talking about a person's right to vote, those mistakes should not be allowed to be made," he said.

Davis and his wife were turned away from voting at their local precinct in the Fentress County community of Pall Mall after being told their names were not on the list of eligible voters.

Davis said he couldn't understand why his name was purged because he's voted in every election at that same precinct since 1995.

Haslam was surprised to be named in the lawsuit, he told a reporter after a speech at a Nashville hotel later on Monday.

"The election commission looked for people who were registered in two counties, and for whatever reason made a decision to take Congressman Davis' name off the roll in one," the Republican governor said.

"It's really nothing the state administration had anything to do with at all," he said. "So I'm not exactly sure why we're named."

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and State Election Coordiator Mark Goins, both Republicans, were also sued.

Goins said Davis could have voted provisionally despite a clerical error that purged him off the voting rolls in Fentress County. He also said he felt like the former's congressman's 19-point loss in the 2010 election to Republican Scott DesJarlais played a role in Davis' decision to sue.

"Honestly, I think part of it has to do with the fact that he lost that last election, and it's tough when you lose an election," Goins said. "Normally a clerical error doesn't end up in a lawsuit."

Davis said he was denied a vote in the same place he last cast a ballot for his failed re-election bid in 2010.

"I told the folks there I may have lost the race for Congress, but not my right to vote," he said.

Last week the state Department of Elections issued an apology to Davis.

Davis says in his lawsuit that no one at the polling place explained that he could vote provisionally. Davis, according to the suit, was later told after he left the precinct to re-register and then cast a provisional ballot. Davis says he declined because he was afraid of being accused of voter fraud and violating a state law that says voters must be registered 30 days before voting in an election.

Goins said he was on the phone with Davis on election night and told him to vote. He said Davis would not have been in violation of the law.

Davis' suit seeks to restore the voting rights of all citizens who were improperly purged since Goins became election coordinator in February 2009. Davis says state records show that 70,000 people have been purged since that time.

Goins said the state rightfully purged felons and dead people from the voter rolls.

"We had a situation in 2005 where dead people voted in Tennessee, and I don't want that to ever happen again," Goins said.

Davis said he simply wants to make sure voters are properly purged.

"My hope is that all 70,000 of those folks should be reconsidered again, placed back on the rolls and then go through the process that's use to purge those voters."

Davis is also asking that voters be notified when they are purged from the rolls. Goins said a state law passed by Democrats says voters don't have to be given notice once their dropped from the rolls.

Davis was dropped from the rolls in Fentress County because he owns property in neighboring Pickett County and votes there in local elections because he owns land. There are separate rolls for property rights' voters and resident voters, and Davis was wrongfully dropped as a resident voter in Fentress County, which would have allowed him to vote in state and national elections, such as Tuesday's primary.

Davis is the former mayor of Byrdstown, Tenn., and was a member of the state House and Senate before being elected to Congress in 2002.

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