I’m Unable to Vote Because I Have a Record, But I’m Not Going to Allow My Past to Be Held Against Me

Issues
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Jawharrah Bahar sitting on her couch
Jawharrah Bahar at her home in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Casey Atkins/Campaign Legal Center.

My name is Jawharrah Bahar and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I work for a nonprofit organization called Free Hearts and we do community activist work, and then, when I’m not working with the nonprofit, I have my own business. I am a licensed esthetician. I have three kids, and so, day to day is pretty hectic sometimes when they like to aggravate each other because they’re all different ages. 

The reason why I’m unable to vote is because I have a record. I went to prison, I spent 3 years and 7 months, completed my parole, and after that, I started the process of getting my voting rights back, and found out that it was very difficult. I was eligible, but I had to pay fees and fines and it was hard for me to pay.  I haven’t been able to really find stable employment since I’ve been home from incarceration, so that’s how I got involved with Free Hearts, doing volunteer work with them, and just advocating for other people in my situation.

It’s been really rough not being able to get my voting rights back. The lawyer that I had on my case, he was going to charge me $500 just to get in front of the judge, just to be heard, just to file indigent. I didn’t have $500.

I went to legal aid and I went through the whole process thinking I was going to get my voting rights back. After everything was done  they denied my claim and told me that they didn’t have the capacity to help me in this situation anymore. Getting that letter in the mail was so devastating.

It’s been a long journey. It’ll be four years this year that I’ve started working on it, so it’s been a long time. 

I really want my voting rights back because people don’t understand local government counts. You need to get involved on a local level, so things won’t happen at that state level, or that federal level. People think their vote doesn’t count, and actually, it does count.

I feel like people like me should be able to get their voting rights back because the law states that we qualify. I see a lot of things going on in my community that’s not right. I want to be able to have a voice to say, “Hey, this is not right.” It’s like society wants to continue to hold your past against you. But I’m not going to allow my past to be held against me.

 

Jawharrah Bahar has been working with organizers from Restore Your Vote to try to regain her voting rights but has so far been unable to move forward with the process because of restitution that she owes.

Restore Your Vote

Not all felony convictions disqualify you from voting. Find out if you have the right to vote.