TN voting-rights restoration process overly complicated

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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In Tennessee, almost a half million people won’t be able to vote in any upcoming elections because of a past felony conviction, and one organization says the state’s process to restore those rights is too complicated.
More than 420,000 Tennesseans with felony convictions cannot vote, according to research from The Sentencing Project.
Dawn Schluckebier – advocacy and government relations director at ThinkTennessee – said voting rights can be restored after a person completes their sentence, including any probation or parole.
They must also pay off any related court cost and restitution, and be current on child support. She added that last summer, the process was updated to include additional steps.
“You have to also then either receive a pardon – which takes multiple years and multiple steps to complete – or petition a court to have your full rights of citizenship restored, which also takes multiple years and multiple steps,” said Schluckebier. “And then, you have to complete a Certificate of Voting Rights Restoration.”
ThinkTennessee is asking lawmakers to remove these extra hurdles. Tennessee is one of just eight states that requires additional steps after sentence completion.
Schluckebier said neighboring states’ voting-rights restoration processes are simpler and more efficient, and Tennessee’s could follow suit.
Her group proposes reverting to the previous method, where individuals could choose one option or the other, simplifying the process by eliminating certain steps.
“And then the rest of the recommendations are really sort of streamlining the process to make it easier for folks who are maneuvering it, and also to reduce redundancies on the administrative side,” said Schluckebier. “The process that I mentioned, in terms of getting the Certificate of Restoration completed, it’s a complicated and confusing process, just given the lack of direction.”
Supporters of harsh, law and order policies argue that a loss of voting rights is a punishment that comes from violating the law. Others may argue that simplifying the restoration process could encourage vote fraud, although actual cases of this are rare to nonexistent.
The group also questions some of the state’s rules about legal financial obligations.
For instance, Tennessee is unique in including child support in restoring voting rights. In 26 states, voters regain eligibility simply after their release from incarceration, probation or parole.
There may still be financial obligations, but they don’t have to be paid in full to have voting rights restored.

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