Campaign Legal Center Files Brief in Pursuit of Voting Rights for Tennessee Citizen

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Nashville, Tennessee - Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has filed an application at the Tennessee Supreme Court to appeal the case of Ernest Falls, who has been denied the right to vote for failure to prove that he does not owe court costs related to a 1986 felony conviction in Virginia.

Under Tennessee law, a person convicted of a felony in another state is disqualified from voting unless their civil rights have been restored in the state where they were convicted or under Tennessee’s rights restoration process. This precedent was supported by a 2019 letter written by Tennessee Elections Director Mark Goins.

In February 2020, the Governor of Virginia provided Mr. Falls with an individualized grant of clemency restoring his full rights of citizenship. Mr. Falls subsequently registered to vote, unaware that Mr. Goins had changed his position, deciding instead that all individuals convicted of felonies must prove they meet the criteria of Tennessee’s administrative voting rights restoration process, which includes payment of court costs and restitution.

Mr. Falls was unable to obtain such documentation on his over 35-year-old court case, and thus his voter registration was denied.

“Individuals with felony convictions deserve the freedom to vote and the opportunity to be full, active participants in our democracy,” said Paul M. Smith, senior vice president of Campaign Legal Center. “State and federal policies should uniformly protect the right to vote and promote voter participation across the United States. Democracy works best when all citizens can vote without barriers.”

Tennessee’s Constitution and statutes do not authorize the Secretary of State to deny the right to vote to individuals with out-of-state convictions if they have had their full rights of citizenship restored by the other state. Having faced setbacks at both the Chancery Court and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville, Mr. Falls now seeks to appeal the decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

"The Tennessee legislature made a clear choice to honor civil rights restorations in other states and that provision has not been touched in nearly 40 years. Ernest Falls' right to vote has not been deprived under state law and thus does not need to be restored,” said Blair Bowie, senior legal counsel and Restore Your Vote manager at Campaign Legal Center. “The Director of Elections does not get to decide to move the goal posts one day.”

Our democracy is better off when everyone participates. The Tennessee Supreme Court should take up this important case and protect Mr. Falls’ right to vote.  

At Campaign Legal Center, we are advancing democracy through law. Learn more about our work.