Tennessee election officials confirmed on Tuesday they will be moving forward with a mandate that requires convicted felons to get their gun rights restored before they can become eligible to vote, clamping down harder on the state’s voting rights restoration policy.
According to AP, last summer, election officials interpreted a Supreme Court ruling requiring the formerly incarcerated to get their full citizenship rights restored before they can be eligible to vote to also include gun rights as a stipulation.
“Under the Tennessee Constitution, the right to bear arms is a right of citizenship,” State Elections Coordinator Mark Goins told AP.
Since the change was implemented by election officials in July, almost all voting rights restorations in the state have been halted. According to AP, more than almost all voting rights restorations. In the seven months before it was implemented, around 200 people were approved and 120 denied, according to the secretary of state’s office.
In Tennessee, all felony drug crimes and felonies involving violence strip away someone’s gun rights. The formerly incarcerated must get a pardon from a governor to restore them.
Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, is pushing back against election officials’ decision by filing a federal class-action lawsuit against the state for their restoration process, arguing that it suppresses the Black vote.
According to the suit, the state doesn’t make clear which officials can sign the necessary forms, provides no criteria for denial, and offers no avenue for appeal. The formerly incarcerated must also be up to date on restitution, court costs and child support payments to be eligible.
“Despite the Tennessee legislature’s clear intent to create meaningful pathways for voting rights restoration, the Elections Division, with help from the Attorney General’s office, continues to twist the law into tortured knots to prevent the 475,000 Tennesseans, including over 20% of voting age Black Tennesseans, with past felony convictions from voting,” Blair Bowie, director of Campaign Legal Center’s Restore Your Vote, told AP.
Even with the toughened restrictions on voting, some Tennessee lawmakers want even tougher laws.
“Overall, I’m not in favor of felons voting. I think they’ve committed a serious crime, serious offense against the state,” Senate Speaker Randy McNally told AP. “And until they’re out of jail and either been pardoned or exonerated for what they did, then they forfeit that right.”
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