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Tennessee voting scoop shows importance of AP’s accountability role

Tennessee reporters Travis Loller and Jonathan Mattise took advantage of deep-source work to help AP score a scoop on an interpretation of a state supreme court decision that made it more difficult for convicted felons to restore their voting rights.

Tennessee is one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to restore their voting rights. The Sentencing Project estimates that more than 470,000 Tennesseans are disenfranchised for felony convictions. That’s more than 9% of the voting age population. For African Americans, the percentage is worse. More than 21% of voting age African Americans are disenfranchised in Tennessee.

When the state Coordinator of Elections sent a letter to local election officials advising them that the state was interpreting a Tennessee Supreme Court ruling to mean that anyone wanting their voting rights restored would first have to either get a pardon or petition the courts for full citizenship restoration, officials recognized that this was a significant change. Sources in the Secretary of State’s office alerted Mattise. Then he and Loller got to work figuring out what the changes would mean. They also were the first to notify the Campaign Legal Center, which has brought a voting rights lawsuit against Tennessee, of the developments.

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