In Tennessee, the law regarding which people with past criminal convictions can and cannot vote has been confusing. Whether a person can vote depends on the year of their conviction, what they were convicted of, whether they are able to pay their legal debt, and whether they have completed their sentence(s). Moreover, some people (but not all) who are eligible to get their right to vote back after a conviction are required to file a request to restore their right – a process that many do not know about. As a result, many Tennesseans with past convictions who are or could be eligible to vote simply do not know that they can participate.
Based on the most recent estimates Tennessee’s law disenfranchises over 421,000 people in the state. The law denies the right to vote to 8.2% of the entire state-wide voting-age population, including more than 21% of the adult black voting-age population. The good news is that for many people with convictions, their voting rights can be restored. Depending on the year of their conviction, some never lost their right to vote at all, though they may believe otherwise.
Campaign Legal Center is working in Tennessee to assist people with convictions through the rights restoration process, train community leaders on that process and break down the notion that a felony conviction always means that you cannot vote for life. Through assisting hundreds of Tennesseans, we plan to iron out the rights restoration process to make it easier for individuals to navigate on their own. We will also identify and push back on systemic barriers that are making it harder for people with convictions to vote.
Learn more about our voting rights work in Tennessee: