Lee Davis: Study Highlights Harm Done By Felon Disenfranchisement Laws

Monday, September 24, 2012 - by Lee Davis
Lee Davis
Lee Davis
This election year voting rights laws have turned into a heated issue as civil rights groups and state legislatures fight over photo ID requirements. While that issue has received a lot of attention, the larger problem of felon disenfranchisement laws has attracted less concern despite the potential millions of votes at stake.

According to the nonprofit organization VOTE, individuals in Tennessee who have been convicted of a felony are ineligible to vote while incarcerated, on parole, or on probation. Those people convicted since 1981- except for some felonies such as murder, rape, treason and voter fraud - may apply to the Board of Probation and Parole to have their voting rights restored once their sentence is completed.
However, their felony charge remains on their records even if their application is approved. As of July 1 of this year, one-time felons also can restore their rights by expunging the charge from their records.

While the law in Tennessee is relatively straightforward, that is not the case across the country. Instead, a patchwork of restrictions exist which prevent nearly 5.85 million people with felony convictions from voting. A report released by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., criminal justice reform advocacy group, reveals that the laws also disproportionately affect some races more than others.

Highlighting the varied laws, a felon in Maine is allowed to vote from prison using an absentee ballot, while a felon convicted of the same crime in Florida might never be allowed to vote, even after having been released from prison. Laws vary widely across the country dealing with how felons lose their voting rights and under what circumstances they can be restored. In Mississippi, there are 22 categories of crime that result in disenfranchisement. Timber larceny is included on the list while manslaughter is not. Adding even more hoops to jump through, the state laws say that felons who want their voting rights back must be approved by a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature, and the governor can then either sign or veto the measure.

Those people who are eager for legal reform argue that voting is a crucial step in integrating criminals back into their communities. They point out that voting is a critical part of citizenship and disenfranchising millions of people is not a good way to make people productive members of society.

Advocates for legal change point out that minorities are far more likely to be affected by these laws than white criminals. Given that black people make up 12.6 percent of the U.S. population, but 37.9 percent of those in federal and state prisons, an overwhelmingly large number of black people are denied the right to vote when compared to other races.

Disenfranchisement also impacts the national political debate by removing millions of possible constituents from the voter rolls. Things like welfare reform and progressive taxation are all issues that affect this group of citizens, but their voices will not be heard given current laws.

Attempts have been made to rectify the situation, with legislation being proposed in Congress to create a national standard. Just this year Democrats introduced the Voter Empowerment Act which proposed sweeping changes in how federal elections are conducted and would let felons who are out of prison vote in federal elections. The measure went nowhere as politicians eager to seem tough on crime defeated it. 

(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at lee@davis-hoss.com or at 266-0605.)


GDOL To Help Roper Recruit Manufacturing Workers Friday In Summerville

Roper Corporation, a division of GE, will recruit about 80 manufacturing workers for its LaFayette facility Friday. The recruitment will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Chattooga County Civic Center, 44 Highway 48 in Summerville.  The company, which manufactures kitchen stoves and microwaves, will be hiring production and assembly-line workers. Salaries begin at $12.30 ... (click for more)

Multiple Trial Errors In Memphis Case Result In New Trial For Defendant

The Tennessee Supreme Court has granted a new trial in a Memphis case in which a man was convicted of rape of a child. In 2012, Frederick Herron was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the rape of his ex-wife’s younger sister. The victim, who said she was between the ages of eight and 12 when the rapes occurred, lived with her sister and the defendant at the time they were ... (click for more)

Robber Is Shot By Victim In Attempted Robbery On East 43rd Street

One person was shot during a robbery attempt at 4314 Rossville Blvd. around 1:50 p.m. on Thursday.  The Chattanooga Police Department is investigating the robbery that ended in a shooting near East 43rd St. at Miller Auto Sales.  The robbery victim shot the suspect.  The suspect was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries. Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Fire On Crutchfield Street Ruled Arson

Chattanooga fire investigators have determined that last Thursday’s fire at 1207 Crutchfield St.  that nearly killed four people was deliberately set. Lt. Henry McElvain with the Fire Investigation Division said he cannot divulge the reason why he thinks it’s arson, but he is asking for help from the public. If anyone has information that can help solve this case, call ... (click for more)

The Problems With Prescription Drug Addiction

In Tennessee today, we have a major problem with prescription drug addiction, particularly when powerful opioid pain relievers are concerned.    For the first time in 2012, Tennesseans abused prescription opioid drugs more than alcohol.  Our young people ages 18-25 abuse prescription opioids at a 30 percent higher rate than the national average.  In just five ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: I Recall J.C. Owens

If you were to go to Oakville, Ala, a little ways from Decatur, about the biggest thing you’d find would be some 20 or so Indian mounds, where the early tribes would bury their dead many centuries ago. But if you sniffed around a bit, you’d learn it was the birthplace of James Cleveland Owens, a man whose name is of no consequence to anyone. I’m proud to say I talked to him ... (click for more)