Suits Seeks Voting Rights Restoration for Tennesseans

CLC suit seeks voting rights restoration for people with felony convictions after state reverses position

NASHVILLE, TN – Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is bringing legal action against Tennessee election officials for their refusal to recognize the voting rights of certain citizens with felony convictions. CLC and local counsel Sherrard, Roe, Voigt, & Harbison, as well as their two individual clients, Ernest Falls and Artie Bledsoe, are urging the court to correct a reversal by the state and allow all people who have had their civil rights restored by the state of their conviction to participate in future elections, as they are eligible to do so under state law. Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Attorney General William Slattery are named defendants in the lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court.

Since 1981, under Tennessee law, a person convicted of a felony in another state is eligible to register to vote in Tennessee if their civil rights have been restored in the state of conviction. This fact has not been communicated by public officials, however, so many Tennesseans who met that requirement assumed that they were disenfranchised. Late last year, CLC worked to clarify that path and solicited the Elections Division to recognize it in writing. However, Tennessee then abruptly reversed course and is now requiring individuals with out-of-state felony convictions to meet additional burdensome requirements that are erroneous under state law.

“People with felony convictions must have the freedom to vote so they can be full, active participants in our democracy,” said Blair Bowie, legal counsel and Restore Your Vote Manager at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Even under the most byzantine voting rights restoration law in the nation, tens of thousands of Tennesseans with past convictions have a pathway back to the ballot box – they just might not know it. Here, we illuminated an open window to rights restoration, and the Elections Division and Attorney General quickly and unlawfully slammed it shut. This case is part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that Tennesseans whom the legislature has deemed fit to vote again actually have a chance to do so.”

Tennessee denies more than 421,000 citizens the right to vote because of felony convictions. This accounts for more than 8.2% of the total voting age population, likely the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the U.S. Of the estimated disenfranchised population, nearly 174,000 are Black, which is more than 21% of the Black voting age population – possibly the highest rate of black disenfranchisement in the U.S.

Public support for rights restoration is strong. 67% of registered voters polled in Tennessee – including 60% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats – favor restoring voting rights to those convicted of a felony who have completed all terms of sentence.

Learn more about CLC’s work to restore voting rights in Tennessee.