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Appeal Claims Tennessee Elections Director Wrongly Violating Ex-Felon’s Voting Rights

February 24, 2022 by Dan McCue
Appeal Claims Tennessee Elections Director Wrongly Violating Ex-Felon’s Voting Rights
In this Dec. 19, 2016, file photo Mark Goins stands at the podium of the House chamber for the state's Electoral College vote in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s elections director is wrongly violating an ex-felon’s voting rights, preventing him from registering despite having served his sentence and being granted clemency in another state, a newly filed appeal claims.

Ernest Falls was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia in 1986 and was released from prison a year later. 

In February 2020, then-Gov. Ralph Northam granted him clemency, restoring Falls rights of citizenship, including the right to run for office, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to vote, court documents say.

Falls now lives in Tennessee where the law states that an ex-felon is disqualified from voting unless their civil rights have been restored in the state where they were convicted or under Tennessee’s rights restoration process.

Among those who supported that law was Tennessee Elections Director Mark Goins, who expressed his support in a 2019 letter.

Since then, however, Goins has had a change of heart, according to the Campaign Legal Center, which is representing Falls.

Goins now believes that all individuals convicted of felonies must prove they meet the criteria of Tennessee’s administrative voting rights restoration process which includes payment of court costs and restitution. 

The problem for Falls is the state of Virginia never required him to pay court costs or make any kind of restitution, and he has been unable to obtain relevant documentation on his court case which is over 35 years old.

As a result, Goins denied his voter registration. Falls sued, but he has so far lost at both the Chancery Court and the Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville. He is now hoping the Tennessee Court of Appeals will over turn those decisions.

“The Tennessee legislature made a clear choice to honor civil rights restorations in other states and that provision has not been touched in nearly 40 years. Ernest Falls’ right to vote has not been deprived under state law and thus does not need to be restored,” said Blair Bowie, senior legal counsel and Restore Your Vote manager at Campaign Legal Center in a written statement. “The director of Elections does not get to decide to move the goalposts …” 

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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