Everyone must be able to vote to fully participate in our democracy, yet the state of Tennessee recently decided to make it harder for some of its citizens to exercise their right to vote.
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, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) worked to clarify that path and solicited the Elections Division to recognize it in writing. But 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.
In response, CLC is representing two individual clients that are impacted by the state’s reversal, Ernest Falls and Artie Bledsoe, and filing a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee to urge it to correct this injustice. All people who have had their civil rights restored by the state of their conviction should be allowed to participate in future elections since they are eligible to do so under state law.
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.
People with felony convictions must have the freedom to vote so they can be full, active participants in our democracy.
Learn more about CLC’s work to restore voting rights in Tennessee.