Senator pushes for low-level felons to have voting rights

Senator pushes for low-level felons to have voting rights

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Should low-level felons who have served their time be allowed to vote in Tennessee?

That's the push from a newly elected state senator from the Mid-South.

Just last month, voters in Florida approved an Amendment that restores voting rights for released felons unless they were convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Tennessee State Senator Raumesh Akbari's push to automatically restore voting rights for some felons is part of a movement in Tennessee and across the country to reform the criminal justice system as well as what happens to people after they have paid their debt to society.

"When we close all doors to opportunity to people, then we push people back into activities that got them in trouble in the first place," said Brad Watkins, executive director of Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

That’s why Watkins thinks newly elected Senator Akbari’s plan to push for automatic restoration of voting rights for low-level felons is a good idea.

"The bottom line for me is you shouldn’t have to suffer and particularly when you look at disenfranchising someone just because you made a mistake in your life,” Sen. Akbari (D) said. “A lot of times there are financial barriers to allowing people to get their voting rights restored.”

Under Tennessee state law people released after serving their time on felony convictions have to pay fines and pay restitution that could amount to hundreds of dollars.

It’s money that someone trying to get their life back might not have. Tennessee already allows felons to regain voter eligibility if their conviction is expunged and they have to complete a form that is a complicated process.

Senator Akbari's bill would not include serious felonies.

"I think this is something that is long overdue, particularly here in Tennessee where even when the legislature passed new rules for the restoration of rights, it’s still incredibly complicated and expensive process,” Watkins said.

Senator Akbari said she has some support but that is something she will be working on – getting enough people on board in the New Year.

How that bill is worded will be key to getting that support.

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