Report Finds Individuals, Society Would Benefit from Restoration of Voting Rights in Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (February 12, 2019) – Tennessee bars people with a felony conviction from voting at a higher rate than nearly every other state (ranked #48), which comes at great cost to both individuals and society, according to a new policy brief released today by ThinkTennessee, Americans For Prosperity and Project Return.

The sixth in ThinkTennessee’s State of Our State dashboard series, the findings reveal how rights restoration can help reduce recidivism while saving taxpayer dollars.

“Tennessee should stand out for our citizens’ successes, not for our high rates of incarceration and recidivism,” said Shanna Singh Hughey, ThinkTennessee president. “Rights restoration would honor our state’s rich civic history by ensuring that people with felony convictions who are once again eligible to participate in their communities can do so.”

According to the report, rights restoration can be an important driver of successful reentry and can contribute to reducing the number of repeat offenders. Today, one in twelve Tennesseans who would otherwise be eligible to vote are prevented from doing so because of a prior felony conviction, leaving many of these benefits left unrealized.

“For too long, Tennesseans have been unable to receive second chances, redemption, and the dignity they deserve after they have paid their debt to society. Streamlining the voting restoration process will enable more people to have their voice heard and give Tennesseans a real second chance to become productive, positive members of their communities,” said Tori Venable, Americans for Prosperity-TN State Director.

For individuals with a felony conviction, Tennessee’s current rights-restoration process is more complex and expensive than it is in any other state. Today’s brief provides state leaders with a variety of policy options, many of which have been successfully implemented in peer states, that would streamline and improve our state’s process.

“There are few things more powerful than redemption, especially for reentering persons,” said Bettie Kirkland, executive director of Project Return. “Even small steps, such as the expansion of rights restoration notices and related education, can have a huge impact on one’s hope for the future and sense of belonging.”

The full brief is available here, and the complete 2019 State of Our State dashboard is here.