Tennessee is on track this year to double the number of felons who saw their voting rights restored, The Tennessean reports. It is a sign some experts and ex-offenders say demonstrates an eagerness to vote in November’s historic presidential election. If a pending voting rights lawsuit succeeds, the number of people banned from voting after serving their sentences could shrink even further. The suit challenges the constitutionality of Tennessee’s felon voting rights law, which bars ex-offenders from voting if they owe child support or court-ordered restitution.
Louis Horton, a Nashville man convicted of burglary, is one of an estimated 90,000 adults in Tennessee and 5.3 million nationwide whose criminal histories make him ineligible to vote, says the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project. Between Jan 1. and June 24 this year, 469 felons requested and received a restoration of their voting rights. That figure is twice the number of people who had their voting rights restored by about the same time last year. In all of 2007, 544 Tennesseans had their voting rights restored. Anecdotal evidence shows similar surges in other states. Rhode Island, Maryland, and Florida all recently loosened restrictions on ex-offender voting, prompting increased public attention and targeted registration drives, said Marc Mauer, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project, which works to draw attention to inequities in criminal justice.