State of Tennessee

Tennessee Out-of-State Felony Disenfranchisement Challenge

Falls v. Goins

Lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee residents against Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins (R) and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R). The plaintiffs, who are Tennessee residents who can’t register to vote in Tennessee due to prior felony convictions in Virginia and North Carolina, assert that under Tennessee law, their voting rights should be restored as they have completed their sentences, but the defendants have denied them their rights.

In Tennessee, there are three ways that individuals with “out-of-state” felony convictions may restore their voting rights: The individual may be pardoned or have their rights restored by the governor of the other state; the individual’s rights can be restored in the state in which they were convicted, which restores their rights in Tennessee, and the individual may apply to have their rights restored under Tennessee law.

The plaintiffs allege that Tennessee “​​is requiring such individuals to meet additional requirements designed for people with in-state convictions that impose barriers not intended by the state of conviction or the state of Tennessee.” According to the complaint, “Tennessee now likely has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the United States. Of the estimated disenfranchised population in Tennessee, nearly 174,000 are Black, accounting for more than 21% of the Black voting age population – likely the highest rate of Black disenfranchisement in the United States.” The plaintiffs allege that the defendants are violating Tennessee law and denying the plaintiffs the fundamental right to vote in violation of the Tennessee Constitution. The plaintiffs also ask that they can register to vote so they may vote in the Aug. 6, 2020 election. The complaint also asks that applications that were “denied or held in suspense solely due to out-of-state convictions” be processed, that the defendants be prevented from denying voter registration applications to those who have had their rights restored and that the defendants issue guidance to local election officials and publicize that people with out-of-state convictions have three options available to restore their rights.

A trial court concluded that the election commission’s decision to not register one of the plaintiffs because he did “not provide evidence that he paid outstanding court costs, restitution, and/or child support” was allowed. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Tennessee Court of Appeals, which affirmed the decision. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Tennessee Supreme Court held oral argument on Oct. 5, 2022.

On June 29, 2023, the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.The court held that even if an individual with an out-of-state felony conviction had their rights restored by the state in which they originally committed a felony — but only regained their rights after they moved to Tennessee — they cannot be re-enfranchised in Tennessee unless they “provide evidence” demonstrating that they do not owe court fees, restitution or child support.

Case Documents (trial court)

Case Documents (Tn Court of Appeals)

Case Documents (Tn Supreme Court)

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