Each month, The Loyal Opposition show host Leonard Assante compiles three top news stories for Sumner County Democrats. Ready to learn more? Read on below!
1. Republican state election official adds new step to Tennessee’s already exhausting voting rights restoration process
Key Point: “The new process is more difficult than the procedures that existed before the legislature created certificates of restoration in 2006 and it puts Tennessee in the bottom of the barrel on rights restoration as one of the only states with a fully discretionary process, alongside Mississippi and Virginia… Tennessee now likely has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the United States.”
Democracy Docket: In New Memo, Tennessee Tightens Felony Disenfranchisement Scheme
[Posted by Democracy Docket]
- On Friday, July 21, the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, Mark Goins (R), announced a change to Tennessee’s felony rights restoration policy in a memo to county elections commissions across the state, adding a new step to an already arduous process.
- The change was made in light of last month’s decision in Falls v. Goins, in which the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld a disenfranchisement scheme that prohibits certain individuals with out-of-state felony convictions from voting in Tennessee. Tennessee has what is known as a pay-to-vote law, which requires individuals to pay all fees, fines or other debts related to their conviction before being eligible for enfranchisement.
- As outlined in the memo, a person convicted of a felony in a Tennessee court, an out-of-state court or a federal court must:
- “Have been pardoned by a Governor, U.S. President, or other appropriate authority of a state, have had full rights of citizenship restored as prescribed by law, and
- Have paid all restitution to the victim or victims of the offense ordered by the court as part of the sentence, if any; and
- Have paid all court costs assessed, if any, unless the court made a finding of indigency; and
- Is current in all child support obligations, if any.”
- Previously, individuals with prior in-state felony convictions had to apply to the Board of Probation and Parole for rights restoration. However, those with out-of-state felony convictions had additional requirements, specifically, they could not be re-enfranchised in Tennessee unless they “provide[d] evidence” demonstrating that they did not owe court fees, restitution or child support.
- As announced in the memo, all individuals must now first receive a pardon, likely by the governor, or have a court restore their full rights of citizenship. This is followed by the pay-to-vote scheme.
- After these requirements are satisfied, the state also requires individuals to complete an updated Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights, which is attached in the memo. The overhaul further complicates a process that advocates say is already strenuous and confusing enough.
- Blair Bowie, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center who has been involved in multiple lawsuits concerning Tennessee’s felony disenfranchisement laws including the Falls case, said in response to Friday’s memo: “The new process is more difficult than the procedures that existed before the legislature created certificates of restoration in 2006 and it puts Tennessee in the bottom of the barrel on rights restoration as one of the only states with a fully discretionary process, alongside Mississippi and Virginia.”
- Currently, more than 9% of the voting-age population in Tennessee cannot vote due to a felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project. In addition, Tennessee is one of several states where more than one in 10 Black individuals are disenfranchised.
- To further contextualize this statistic, as noted in the Falls complaint, “Tennessee now likely has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the United States. Of the estimated disenfranchised population in Tennessee, nearly 174,000 are Black, accounting for more than 21% of the Black voting age population – likely the highest rate of Black disenfranchisement in the United States.”
2. Cash For Clout: Who’s Funding Tennessee Politics? (Story from TN Lookout) Every year millions of dollars flow to Nashville, flooding the halls of Tennessee’s state capitol as a small number of deep-pocketed groups attempt to influence lawmakers.
The money comes in many streams through different legal channels, all aiming to influence regulations, push for tax breaks and secure government contracts, often to further private interests instead of the public. The Tennessee Lookout, relying on publicly filed lobbying and campaign finance reports, created a tool to search Tennessee’s top political spenders and recipients.
This tool allows users to discover who’s spending the most cash to influence lawmakers and different ways groups spend money to gain influence. Explore the top donors to every current lawmaker and the politicians raking in the most money.
More than 29,000 companies, people and political associations have donated at least $100 to Tennessee’s current crop of elected officials, their affiliated political action committees (PAC) and the political party PACs
To use the search tool, click here.
3. The Loyal Opposition Celebrates One Year on the Air
On July 26th, Len Assante, host of Portland-based radio show The Loyal Opposition interviewed TNDP Vice-Chair Rachel Campbell. This marked the show’s one year broadcast anniversary. The Loyal Opposition was started as a joint project between WQKR radio in Portland and SCDP Volunteer Len Assante. The show focuses on local and state-level political news and commentary from a progressive perspective. The goal of the show is to “tell the other side of the story,” to make sure Republican talking points and press releases are not the only sources of political news in local media.
Since last July, Assante and his occasional co-hosts and guest hosts (including Michele Harbin, Megan Lange, and Cole Shepherd) have interviewed local officials, politicians, activists, and candidates. They have reviewed campaign finance reports for some of our Republican legislators, offered proof that TN elections are secure, have highlighted and disagreed with our county commission, and have promoted local events and Democratic candidates.
Want to listen? The show airs live on Wednesdays from 5-6pm on WQKR AM/FM/.COM, and you can listen anytime to the podcast at WQKR.com. Follow the show on Threads, Instagram, and Facebook to be informed of upcoming guests and other news. You can also visit the show’s website www.theloyalopposition.online, which was designed by SCDP Communications Chair Megan Lange.