In at least 35 states, those with felony convictions can vote again after their full sentence is complete, and several states have eased the path to voting rights restoration in recent years. But in Tennessee, where financial and logistical hurdles already prevent many from regaining their rights, the process has become harder. In July, Tennessee officials issued new guidance mandating that instead of choosing between two possible paths of voting restoration, those with felony convictions would need to complete both, Stateline reports. Nearly 10% of the voting population in Tennessee is excluded from the polls because of felony convictions, a rate second only to Mississippi and one that especially affects people of color. One in 5 Black Tennessee residents is unable to vote because of a felony conviction, the highest rate in the nation.
The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office reported that nearly 3,350 Tennesseans regained their voting rights since 2018, which is less than 1% of those disenfranchised with a felony conviction who have completed their sentences. Tennessee is one of about 10 states that tie voting rights to legal financial obligations and it is the only state that requires child support payments are up to date, according to 2022 research by the Sentencing Project. For some individuals, the debt owed is insurmountable and can be as high as six figures, Harrington said.