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 election commissions across the state, adding a new step to an already arduous process.
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.
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.”
After these requirements are satisfied, the state also requires individuals to complete an updated Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights.
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.
If you, or someone you know, has been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands may be able to assist with such issues as waiving of fines and fees, expungements, and restoration of civil and voting rights. You can contact that office at 1-800-238-1443, or visit the website.