What’s The “TEA” on the Voter Restoration Bill

A felony conviction is life changing, and that’s putting it mildly. Imprisonment, restitution, and stigma are almost insurmountable obstacles for a formerly incarcerated person. The ways in which a conviction of this magnitude disrupts one’s life does not conclude at the end of a jail sentence or probation. Some states strip away the opportunity to own a gun, to travel out of the country, to work for certain employers, or to receive public assistance such as housing or grants for higher education.

In many ways, the most egregious of these losses is the loss of the right to vote. Voting provides a voice to the otherwise voiceless. It ensures that the will of the people gets reflected in the laws and policies that dictate everything from school funding and sidewalks to tax reform and anti-discrimination in public services.

Formerly incarcerated individuals who have arguably been among the most affected by the decisions of elected officials are cut off from the very process that protects their interests. In Tennessee, more than 421,000 people have completed their sentences and, while they go to work, pay taxes and contribute to their communities in a number of meaningful ways, they are denied access to the voting booth. Tennessee has the fourth highest disenfranchisement rate in the country and consistently ranks last in voter participation. Voter suppression and other tactics make it difficult to vote in Tennessee. Most concerning are the well-known statistics surrounding the incarceration rates for people of color and the affect that has on these communities. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 37% of all federally incarcerated individuals are African-American, an astounding figure considering that African-Americans make up only 13% of the population.

The revocation of voting rights for those who have been incarcerated touches the black population in proportions that are not seen in any other racial demographic. In essence, a larger percentage of black people than any other race are legally kept from the voting booth as continued punishment for an offense for which they have already served a sentence. In fact, 1 in 5 African Americans cannot vote in Tennessee due to a past felony conviction. It begs the question: is the revocation of voting rights an ethical, reasonable, or even pragmatic punishment for those who have committed felonies? 

In Tennessee, those who have been incarcerated are not given the opportunity to restore that right unless they take steps to navigate a convoluted restoration process. The process includes financial requirements that are prohibitive for many people. Tennessee is the only state in the country that requires all court-ordered child support to be paid as a condition of having one’s voting rights restored. This sends yet another signal that we value those who have the means to pay for their freedom rather than providing access equitably.  

The Equity Alliance believes in fair and equal access to the ballot box for all eligible voters. That’s why TEA, along with with several advocacy organizations, such as the ACLU, Americans For Prosperity, Project Return, and Think Tennessee support a new bill that would make the voter restoration process much easier. The bill removes financial obligations and streamlines the administrative process. It puts the burden on the State rather than the individual.

On Wednesday, the Tennessee State Senate will vote on Senate Bill 0589/House Bill 0547, a bill that will move Tennessee one step closer to making it easier for those who have paid their debt to society to vote. It is imperative that Tennesseans hold elected officials responsible and support this bill. The erosion of voting rights for any demographic is unjust, and it is especially troubling when minority communities are disproportionately affected. We will be at the hearing on Tuesday, March 26 at 8:00 a.m., and we hope you’ll join us. You can also call the State Senators on the committee. It takes action from all of us.

Distractions


Photo: The Tennessean

Today, the Davidson County Election Commission voted 5-0 to clear the way for a referendum on the November 6th ballot for a community oversight board. This is a result of the months-long hard work by the Community Oversight Now coalition to add a Metro charter amendment for police accountability. After two black men – Jocques Clemmons and Daniel Hambrick – were gunned down in the back by two white Metro Nashville Police officers within 18 months, the public has once again called for police accountability.

As we said in our statement last week, we support a community oversight board for Nashville. But not everyone thinks so. The Nashville Fraternal Order of Police challenged the validity of the petition signatures today. Now that the ballot measure will go forward, they, yet again, intend to block citizens from engaging in the civic process by appealing the election commission’s decision.

We call these distractions.

On the state level, Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to four Tennessee inmates last month. Meanwhile, he continues to ignore the national and local outcry to grant clemency for Cyntoia Brown. In response, we sent him this letter.

Does Gov. Haslam think we’ll forget about Cyntoia Brown? We call BS on these distractions.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump called his former White House aide – and the highest ranking black woman on his staff – a “lowlife” “dog.” He continues to ratchet up dog whistle rhetoric directed toward blacks and women. Stay woke, because that same day, Ben Carson, his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development pushed to bring back housing discrimination and segregation.

Again, the president’s tweets are all distractions.

Our recent political climate has been frustrating, to say the least. We get it. You’re feeling hopeless, indifferent, angry, and even defeated.

Stay woke. Be vigilant. Be encouraged. There’s a way out of this, and that’s to vote. Vote out those elected officials who don’t represent your values or value black lives. We want all people of color to have a fair and just opportunity at realizing the American dream. But we know the current status quo can’t continue.

Stay focused. November is coming.

Nashville Voter Guide released for Aug. 2 election

THE EQUITY ALLIANCE RELEASES THE NASHVILLE VOTER GUIDE 
Free, nonpartisan, public resource for the August 2nd election is available at www.nashvillevoterguide.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 29, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (June 29, 2018) – Tennessee ranks 50th in voter turnout and 40th in voter registration. In Davidson County, communities of color live in precincts with the lowest voter turnout. Determined to flip these statistics, The Equity Alliance was founded in 2017 to increase minority voter participation and civic engagement. Today, after registering more than 250 new voters for the May 1 election, the nonprofit released the second installment of the Nashville Voter Guide for the entire Davidson County community.

The Nashville Voter Guide is a comprehensive, free, and nonpartisan public resource for Nashville voters to make an informed decision in the voting booth on Election Day. The guide includes unbiased candidate profiles, roles of each elected office, polling locations and hours, voter ID requirements, transit referendum information and much more.

“We are so excited about bringing this vital community resource and educational tool to Davidson County voters,” said Charlane Oliver, board president and founder of The Equity Alliance. “We are delighted to work with our community partners to ensure this public resource gets into the hands of those who need it most. We’ve spent a lot of time registering people to vote, and now we want to make sure those voters are equipped with knowledge to make an informed decision in the voting booth.”

As part of their voter education and engagement focus, The Equity Alliance released its inaugural voter guide for the May 1st election with more than 1,775 downloads and 2,000 hard copies distributed. The501(c)3 nonprofit has plans to produce a voter guide for the November 6 election.

“One of the biggest hurdles to voter turnout is a lack of awareness of upcoming elections and access to available information on the candidates,” said Oliver. “We have talked with many constituents who say they don’t know who to vote for. Right now, the stakes are too high in our city for us to simply rely on a D or an R behind someone’s name and check a box. With this guide, we’re putting the power back into the people’s hands.”

The guide is available for download at www.nashvillevoterguide.com. For more information, contact info@theequityalliance.org.