Restore Voting Rights to 320,000 Formerly Incarcerated Tennesseans

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Vote YES on HB0547 / SB0589 to restore voting rights for more than 421,000 Tennesseans.

Tennessee has some of the strictest rights restoration laws in the nation. It is one of twelve states with lifetime voting bans for people convicted of certain crimes and also one of twelve states that require those with felony convictions to complete a series of steps beyond serving their sentence in order to have their rights restored. Tennessee is the only state that includes as one of these steps the payment of child support obligations.

Rights restoration contributes to reduced recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars. Over 421,000 Tennesseans could benefit from easing the financial requirements for rights restoration or going even further to immediately restoring voting rights upon the completion of a sentence. But the benefits would not stop there: Research shows that states that permanently bar people with felony convictions from voting see higher rates of repeat offenders than those that do not. High rates of incarceration and recidivism come with a high cost to taxpayers.

A national trend to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions has emerged. Rights restoration, and criminal justice reform more broadly, has gained strong support from prominent conservative groups and Congress.(i) Since 1997, twenty-three states have amended laws for rights restoration. As a result of these reforms, nearly three million Americans regained the right to vote between 1997 and 2018.

More than 421,000 citizens in Tennessee—who have successfully completed their sentences and are living, working, and paying taxes in their communities—cannot vote due to a past felony conviction. This is a travesty.

In fact, Tennessee has the fourth highest disenfranchisement rate in the country and its impact disproportionately hurts people of color. People who have been formally incarcerated have been relegated to second-class citizenry and a lifetime sentence by the inability to restore their voting rights. They should be allowed to restore their voting rights without the burdensome bureaucratic process of completing forms or the financial requirement to pay court fines, fees, and child support.

The automatic restoration of voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences has overwhelming bipartisan support, lowers recidivism rates, helps to maintain accurate and secure voter rolls, and improves dignity and self-worth to give them a voice in who makes decisions for their future.

Vote YES on HB0547 / SB0589 to restore voting rights for more than 421,000 Tennesseans.