A new study conducted by the non-profit incarceration think tank Sentencing Project has found that 5.85 million Americans will be ineligible to vote in the November general election, due to harsh voting restriction laws that have made the United States one of the "world’s strictest nations when it comes to denying the right to vote to citizens convicted of crimes."
According to the report, released this month, Tennessee ranks among Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia for possessing the nation's highest rates of disenfranchised adult populations, at over 7 percent.
"In this election year, the question of voting restrictions is once again receiving great public attention," the report says. "The numbers presented here represent our best assessment of the state of felon disenfranchisement as of December 31, 2010, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Our goal is to provide statistics that will help contextualize and anticipate the potential effects of felon disenfranchisement on elections in November 2012."
Tennessee is the proud home of roughly 248,000 non-voting felons. Under the mechanisms in place for restoring their voting right — or, depending on your persuasion, their voting privilege — on average only about 2 percent of those 248,000 actually get it back.
What the report (found here) doesn't factor in are the consequences of new state-level voter ID laws (including Tennessee's, first enacted at the beginning of 2012), which U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has characterized as nothing more than "poll taxes." (And it's not hard to wonder why.)
A report by the Institute for Southern Studies finds that under Tennessee's Draconian law, approximately 380,000 adults could be easily purged from the polls, in large part due to the supposed failure of the voting ID program in getting cards out to the elderly.
The end result means that come November in the Volunteer State, nearly 628,000 citizens likely won't be casting a ballot.
From the Institute for Southern Studies' blog:
Critics argued the bill posed an especially big problem for the elderly: A unique Tennessee law allows residents over 60 to get driver's licenses without a picture. According to state records, more than 230,000 Tennessee seniors have such licenses — 126,000 of whom are registered to vote — meaning they wouldn't be able to vote with those IDs.
The total number of eligible Tennessee citizens without photo IDs is likely much higher. Voting rights groups like the Brennan Center estimate that up to 10 percent of eligible voters nationally lack photo ID cards. With nearly 3.9 million registered voters, that would translate to more than 380,000 citizens without the needed photo ID in Tennessee.
But a Facing South public information request to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security revealed that only a fraction of the voters who likely need photo ID cards to vote are getting them.
In an email to Facing South, Jennifer Donnals of the department stated, "As of Monday, July 9 our department had issued 20,923 state IDs for voting purposes to citizens in Tennessee."
That figure would only cover 17 percent of Tennessee seniors who are registered to vote but who, according to state records, lack photos on their driver's licenses, potentially leaving as many as 100,000 citizens aged 60 and up without the needed identification to vote.
Using the higher estimate of 10 percent of state voters without photo ID — both seniors and non-elderly citizens — the number of Tennesseans lacking the required ID could reach up to more than 300,000.