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May 17, 2006: Tennessee Legislature Simplifies Voting Restoration for Ex-Felons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2006

CONTACT: Hedy Weinberg, 615-320-7142

Tennessee Legislature Simplifies Voting Restoration for Ex-Felons

NASHVILLE— The Tennessee legislature today approved a bill to simplify the process for people who have completed a felony sentence to regain their voting rights, thereby streamlining the nation’s most confusing system,
announced the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) and the national Right to Vote Campaign.

“Current felony disenfranchisement laws are so confusing that men and women who qualify to vote probably do not know it,” said Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Passage of this bill is an important first step in streamlining the process and ensuring that a citizen not only understands the process but can have his or her most sacred democratic right restored."

While praising the passage of the bill, Weinberg raised concern about a last
minute amendment which prevents the restoration of voting rights if
individuals are not current on child support payments. According to
Weinberg, “This last minute provision unfairly penalizes poor mothers and
fathers who may never have enough money to buy back their franchise.”

Laws that bar people with felony convictions from voting in Tennessee vary
according to when a person was convicted and for what type of crime. For
convictions after 1981, the right to vote is lost permanently for any felony
offense. People convicted of a felony between 1973 and 1981 lose their
voting rights while serving their sentence, but regain their voting rights
after its completion. People convicted before 1973 lose their voting rights
if they are convicted of one of eight categories of crimes. Tennessee’s
procedure for restoring voting rights also varies depending on a person’s
conviction date, and can require a citizen to hire a lawyer and go to court
to regain the franchise.

HB1722/SB1678, sponsored by Representative Larry Turner and Senator Steve Cohen, creates a single restoration process. Eligible people who have
completed their felony sentences, including probation and parole, and paid
their restitution, may apply for and receive a “certificate of voting rights
restoration” through the criminal justice system. A person must then
present this certificate to elections officials who verify it before
registering the applicant to vote. Persons convicted of murder, rape, and
certain other specified crimes are ineligible to have their voting rights
restored.

“Ultimate passage of this legislation is an important first step towards
reform of Tennessee’s voting rights laws for people with felony
convictions,” said Laleh Ispahani of the American Civil Liberties Union and
a member of the Right to Vote Campaign. “But even after final passage of
this legislation, Tennessee will continue to maintain one of the most
complicated and onerous restoration systems in the country. Today’s move
towards progress highlights the need for additional reform.”

Tennessee today joins a growing list of states seeking to ease the voting
restoration process for people with felony convictions. Studies show that,
among people who have been arrested, those who vote are rearrested at half the rate of those who do not vote. The restoration of voting rights helps
protect public safety by reintegrating people into society after serving criminal sentences.

The Tennessee Right to Vote Campaign, spearheaded by ACLU-TN, includes the Catholic Public Policy Commission, Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council,
Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Restoration Project, and the Tennessee Bar Association. The Right to Vote Campaign is a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations working to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions. To learn more about the national Right to Vote Campaign, go to http://www.righttovote.org/.

 

 

   
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