Dawn Harrington says felony disenfranchisement voter suppression in Tennessee is only getting worse
August 30, 2023
This week, JLUSA leader Dawn Harrington (Leading with Conviction™ 2017) co-authored an op-ed on the latest attacks on voting rights in Tennessee:
“In Tennessee, Jim Crow is alive and well. The state’s felony disenfranchisement voter-suppression regime is living proof.
“Felony disenfranchisement has long been a stain on our democracy. The practice, a destructive backlash against Black voting power, strips the freedom to vote from Americans if they have a past felony conviction.
“Felony disenfranchisement laws worked as designed, carrying racial discrimination in the criminal legal system into our democracy to silence Black voters. And these laws still serve that purpose today, stripping Black citizens of the freedom to vote at more than three times the rate of the general population nationwide.
This effectively closes the door to voting rights restoration for more than 470,000 Tennesseans, disproportionately silencing the voices of Black and brown Tennesseans.
“Tennessee, with the most convoluted voting rights restoration process and, by extension, the highest rate of Black disenfranchisement of any state in the nation, has been the poster child for the ruinous consequences of these laws.
“Then, last month, the state Elections Division brought its voter suppression to another level.
“In a quietly administered guidance with grave repercussions, Tennessee’s Elections Division willfully and unilaterally misinterpreted a recent state Supreme Court case that dealt with out-of-state felony convictions, issuing new guidance that essentially shuts down the state’s voting rights restoration process.
“The illogical new procedure forces individuals who have lost the right to vote because of a felony conviction to go through both Tennessee’s administrative voting rights restoration process (called a Certificate of Restoration, or COR) and to seek to restore their full rights of citizenship through a gubernatorial pardon or court petition.
“This effectively closes the door to voting rights restoration for more than 470,000 Tennesseans, disproportionately silencing the voices of Black and brown Tennesseans. In addition to having the highest per capita rate of voter disenfranchisement in the country, the state has the second-largest disenfranchised population in the country, next only to Florida, and disenfranchises more than 9 percent of its voting population.
“Now, Tennessee has become just one of three states—joining Mississippi and Virginia—that imposes discretionary and virtually permanent disenfranchisement on its returning citizens.”