Some Imprisoned Felons Still Legally Voting, Candidate Discovers

Thanks to a foulup by the state Legislature decades ago, nine felony inmates were able to legally vote in Metro Nashville’s elections on Aug. 4, reports Michael Cass in an article that provides background on the quirk in state law that got the attention of a losing City Council candidate.
For one eight-year, four-month period some 30 years ago, criminals could do anything they wanted in the state of Tennessee without losing at least one freedom: the right to vote. That fact now haunts Mary Carolyn Roberts, a candidate for a Metro Council seat representing the West Nashville district where three state prisons are located.
“It’s just unsettling to see nine felons … deciding who our elected officials are,” Roberts said.
Roberts lost to Councilman Buddy Baker by 46 votes last month, but Baker received just nine more votes than he needed to avoid a runoff in the three-candidate District 20 race. Roberts later filed an election challenge, citing votes by nine prisoners — including six who aren’t even incarcerated in Nashville — and by 14 other people who allegedly don’t live in the district.
But Roberts, who said a bench trial in Davidson County Chancery Court has been set for Oct. 3-5, might have to rest most of her hopes on the 14 free voters rather than the nine who were behind bars in prisons from Tiptonville to Mountain City.
Until Jan. 15, 1973, people found guilty of “infamous” crimes in Tennessee forfeited their voting rights. The definition of “infamous” was quirky to the point of ridiculousness: Someone convicted of abusing a female child would be banned from the ballot box, but nothing was said about abusing a male child.
David Collins, the state’s election coordinator from 1977 to 1987, said the legislature inadvertently repealed the law in 1972, effective the following Jan. 15. Starting on that date, no crime would result in disenfranchisement.
…The General Assembly closed the loophole ….effective May 18, 1981
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