Class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP and five individuals — who attempted to restore their right to vote before the November 2020 election and were denied — against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R), Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R) and other state and county officials.
The lawsuit challenges Tennessee’s inaccessible and non-uniform method for restoring voting rights to individuals with prior felony convictions. In order to restore one’s voting rights in Tennessee, residents who meet specific criteria can request a Certificate of Restoration of Voting Rights (COR) from the Governor or the Tennessee Department of Corrections ” and then the COR must be submitted to the county election administrator. The lawsuit alleges that some plaintiffs have requested CORs and have not received them or have been in situations where there is no mechanism for the individual to obtain a COR.
The complaint argues that the implementation of Tennessee’s rights restoration process creates “an unequal, scattershot system across Tennessee’s ninety-five counties, causing disparate results for similarly situated individuals,” and at least one county, Rutherford County, charges a fee for the COR. The complaint asserts that this fee constitutes a poll tax and violates the 24th Amendment. The complaint also alleges that the state’s arbitrary scheme for restoring voting rights violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment and that elements of Tennessee’s voter registration process violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
According to the lawsuit, “Tennessee’s felony disenfranchisement law continues to have a disparate impact on Black Tennesseans. Black people make up 16% of the state’s total voting-age population, but account for 39% of its disenfranchised population. Of the state’s 451,000 disenfranchised citizens, nearly 175,000 are Black, accounting for more than 21% of the Black voting-age population—one of the highest rates of Black disenfranchisement in the United States.”
The plaintiffs ask the court to order the implementation of a uniform, formal method to request a COR (without a fee) “before an impartial decision maker” and to require the creation of voter “registration forms and policies that comply with the NVRA.”