Tennessee Clarifies Voter Eligibility for People with Prior Felony Convictions

Issues

Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett has agreed to update his state’s website to correct inaccurate information about voter registration laws for citizens with past felony convictions. Tennessee has agreed to do three things: (1) post clear instructions about voting rights in election offices and Department of Motor Vehicles offices, (2) change the language on the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website, and (3) make a request to the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) to place additional instructions on the federal voter registration form to clarify the eligibility of its citizens. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing the Tennessee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the matter.

Read the instructions Tennessee is releasing.

Currently, the state’s registration form wrongly informs applicants that their felony convictions are disqualifying unless voting rights have been restored, when in fact many persons with convictions never lost their voting rights, depending upon the date and nature of the conviction.

“This is a welcome first step in ensuring that Tennessee citizens are accurately informed about their voting rights,” said Mark Gaber, senior legal counsel, litigation, at CLC. “With the state voter registration deadline for the November 2018 election fast approaching on October 9, this information will assist voters in understanding their rights.

“We look forward to Secretary’s Hargett’s continued cooperation in correcting the voter registration form itself following the November election,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, President of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP.

The state registration forms incorrectly state that citizens must “not have been convicted of a felony, or if convicted, have had [their] full rights of citizenship restored (or have received a pardon)” in order to be eligible to vote in the state. Yet under Tennessee law, not all persons with prior convictions are ineligible, depending upon the date of their conviction or the nature of their conviction. The state form contains no space for registrants to indicate that they are eligible to vote, notwithstanding their prior conviction. The form’s inaccurate information and its design mean that many eligible voters may well forgo registering, wrongly believing they have no right to vote.

CLC first sent a letter to Secretary Hargett in March to inform his office about the inaccuracies in Tennessee’s forms.