State Senate Minority Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari, a Democrat, plans to sponsor legislation that could automatically help restore the right to vote for people with low-level felony convictions.
But some research indicates felons, when given the chance, overwhelmingly pull the levers for Democrats.
Is Akbari, who represents Memphis’ 91st District, doing this to help the Democratic Party?
Akbari said no.
Akbari said in an emailed statement to The Tennessee Star that she wants Democrats and Republicans to support her forthcoming bill.
“I’m not drafting it to benefit a Republican or Democrat – but Tennesseans as a whole,” Akbari said, adding she has had meetings on this issue with the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
Those meetings, she said, also included members of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.
“Our sole focus was coming up with bipartisan criminal justice reform initiatives we could all agree on. Some form of automatic restoration of voting rights was among one of the many ideas we discussed and agreed on,” Akbari said.
“States that have some version of automatic restoration of rights varies- and many are traditionally Republican-led states like Utah, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Arizona, and Alaska. On a national level, I know at one point automatic restoration received a strong endorsement from Senator Lindsey Graham.”
According to the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which studied the issue in other states, “those ex-felons who are registered overwhelmingly register as Democrats.”
The 2013 study analyzed voting in New York, New Mexico, and North Carolina.
“Of those discharge records that match to at least one voter file record, 61.5 percent match only to Democratic voter records,” according to the publication.
“In contrast, 25.5 percent match only to voter records with no affiliation or an affiliation with a minor party, while 9 percent match only to Republican voter records.”
The publication, however, said recently discharged ex-felons in New York voted at extremely low rates.
Ex-felons in New Mexico, meanwhile, also voted overwhelmingly Democrat.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, the study said “ex-felons are more Democratic than the general population of active registrants.”
Akbari told The Daily Memphian this week that “the proposed legislation would set up a referendum similar to one in Florida.” Voters there passed an amendment that enables about 1.2 million felons who’ve finished their sentences to go on voter rolls.