If you drove past the Dollar General on Wilcox Boulevard in Chattanooga on Saturday, you probably saw friendly faces sharing comfort food in the parking lot. But the event was about more than fried fish — it was an attempt to give a disenfranchised population a second chance at freedom.
Chattanooga Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, a convicted felon with a history of fighting for her rights and to have her voice heard, says nothing can give someone coming out of prison a better sense of freedom and normalcy than the restoration of voting rights.
"I didn't feel complete or like a whole human who could contribute my everything to society, because I had felt like I was stripped of every given thing that I had the right to do," Coonrod recalls. "I wanted to get it back. And so, I was real aggressive about doing it.
"You know, I decided I was going to use that opportunity and everything that I had lost to gain it back and make sure that I was empowering other people to do the same thing."
Now, whether speaking from the dais as a councilwoman or helping people over lunch on a Saturday afternoon, Coonrod says it's important to walk others through the process.
"It's a very easy process, but at first it was kind of scary because you don't know. And if you don't have anybody that's willing to share information or to walk you through the steps, you are just kind of left in limbo," Coonrod said. "So that's why I'm out here, making sure we're in the right places where we can give the people who need it the resources to get their rights back and get their vote because this is one of the most important parts of being a citizen, being a person."
Specifically, Coonrod wants to see Black residents and disenfranchised people seize the opportunity to participate, even when past choices and cycles seem to weigh them down.
"When you think about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and how they then placed barriers to prevent Blacks from voting, we want to do all that we can to help this group of people that some folks have targeted to keep them from voting," Coonrod said. "And we need to change some laws, some laws that we've seen because we were in prison or whatever situation, and we need to have the ability to vote for the candidates who are advocating for the same things."
Below are details of eligibility and applications to restore voting rights in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama:
All convictions of a crime which constitutes a felony in Tennessee — whether by a Tennessee court, a court in another state or a federal court — cause you to forfeit your eligibility to vote. You may regain your eligibility to vote if you have your conviction expunged or if you have your voting rights restored through an application found on the secretary of state's website at https://bit.ly/3jaB85V.
— Conviction between Jan. 15, 1973, and May 17, 1981. All people who were convicted during this time period are eligible to vote. You do not need to have your rights restored, but the Division of Elections will need to verify you were convicted during this time period.
— Conviction prior to Jan. 15, 1973.
You still have the right to vote unless you were convicted of one of the following crimes:
* Abusing a female child
* Arson and felonious burning
* Felonious breaking into a business house, outhouse other than a dwelling house
* Felonious breaking and entering a dwelling house
* Horse stealing
* Stealing bills of exchange or other valuable papers
* Receiving stolen property
* Destroying a will
* Subornation of perjury
Even if you were convicted of a crime listed above, you still have the right to vote if you can show that at the time of your conviction the judge did not render you "infamous," if your conviction was reversed on appeal or expunged, if you received a full pardon, or if you have your voting rights restored.
You are never eligible to register and vote if you were convicted of specific felonies within specific date ranges:
— After July 1, 1986
* Voter fraud
* First-degree murder
* Aggravated rape
— After July 1, 1996, to June 30, 2006
* Voter fraud
* Any degree of murder or rape
— After July 1, 2006
* Voter fraud
* Any degree of murder or rape
* Certain felonies involving bribery, misconduct involving public officials and employees, or interference with government operations
* Sexual offenses or violent sexual offenses that are felonies where the victim was a minor
For more information contact the Tennessee Secretary of State's office at 615-741-7956.
To restore voting rights in Georgia
Your right to vote is automatically restored upon termination of your sentence or sentences in the state of Georgia. However, you must re-register with your local registrar's office in the county of your residence. To find your local registrar's office, visit this site: http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/Elections/register_to_vote.
To restore other civic rights including the right to run for elected office, complete this application.
To restore voting rights in Alabama
You may apply for restoration of rights if you were convicted of one of these crimes, and do not have any pending felony charges, have paid all fines, fees and restitutions ordered at sentencing of the disqualifying charge and have completed your sentence including probation or parole by submitting an application:
* Assault 1st Degree
* Assault 2nd Degree
* Kidnapping 1st Degree
* Kidnapping 2nd Degree
* Human Trafficking 1st Degree
* Human Trafficking 2nd Degree
* Soliciting or providing support for an act of terrorism
* Hindering prosecution of terrorism
* Endangering the water supply
* Possession, manufacture, transport, or distribution of a destructive device or bacteriological weapon, or biological weapon
* Selling, furnishing, giving away, delivering, or distribution of a destructive device, a bacteriological weapon, or biological weapon to a person who is less than 21 years of age
* Possession, manufacture, transport, or distribution of a detonator, explosive, poison, or hoax device
* Possession or distribution of a hoax device represented as a destructive device or weapon
* Attempt to commit an explosives or destructive device or bacteriological or biological weapons crime
* Conspiracy to commit an explosives or destructive device or bacteriological or biological weapons crime
* Hindrance or obstruction during detection, disarming, or destruction of a destructive device or weapon
* Possession or distribution of a destructive device or weapon intended to cause injury or destruction
* Trafficking in cannabis, cocaine, or other illegal drugs or trafficking in amphetamine and methamphetamine
* Torture or other willful maltreatment of a child under the age of 18
* Aggravated child abuse
* Prohibited acts in the offer, sale, or purchase of securities
* Burglary 1st Degree
* Burglary 2nd Degree
* Theft of Property 1st Degree
* Theft of Property 2nd Degree
* Theft of Lost Property 1st Degree
* Theft of Lost Property 2nd Degree
* Theft of trademarks or trade secrets
* Robbery 1st Degree
* Robbery 2nd Degree
* Robbery 3rd Degree
* Forgery 1st Degree
* Forgery 2nd Degree
* Aggravated Theft by Deception
* Any crime as defined by the laws of the United States or by the laws of another state, territory, country, or other jurisdiction, which, if committed in this state, would constitute one of the offenses listed in this subsection
You are not eligible for restoration if you were convicted of:
* Enticing a child to enter a vehicle for immoral purposes
* Parents or Guardians permitting children to engage in obscene matter
* Possession of obscene matter
* Possession with intent to distribute child pornography
* Production of obscene matter
* Production of obscene matter involving a minor
* Sexual abuse
* Sexual torture
* Soliciting a child by computer
You are eligible to register to vote without any restoration if you were convicted of any crime not listed above.
For more information contact the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles at 334-242-8700
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or email@example.com or on Twitter @_SarahGTaylor.