Local politicians and activists say felon enfranchisement is an especially important issue in Tennessee.
More than 420,000 voting-age individuals in Tennessee have been barred from voting because of a felony conviction, according to a
report by Think Tennessee. The state has the third-highest rate of residents banned from voting.
Gideon’s Army outreach coordinator Larry Turnley didn’t cast his first ballot until he was 47. Turnley had been sentenced to life in federal prison on a crack cocaine charge. He spent two decades appealing his sentence before the laws changed and he was released.
Turnley says he didn’t know how important his rights were until he lost them.
“To get my sentence overturned, it showed me the value of our constitutional rights,” he says. “That’s what made it so precious when I did obtain my voting rights.”
One big barrier is court fines. Under
current law, felons must repay all court debts before they can vote.
State Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, plans to reintroduce legislation to restore voting rights to all convicted felons immediately upon their release.
“I know that these battles can grow long and weary, but we have to run on through,” Gilmore said at a press conference Wednesday. “We must do our part and carry our burden. We must continue the fight so we can leave a better America to our children and to our grandchildren.”
Samantha Max is a
Report for America corps member.