These prosecutions also unfairly blame individuals for failing to navigate a voter restoration process that is unclear, she said, adding that state officials are responsible for putting adequate procedures in place for that process.
Ms. Bowie is representing the Tennessee N.A.A.C.P. in a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee and other officials that accuses them of failing to establish clearer procedures, for individuals with felony convictions, “leading to a rights restoration process that is unequal, inaccessible, opaque and inaccurate.”
Nearly 80 percent of the disenfranchised people in the state have completed probation and parole and are potentially eligible to restore their voting rights, but fewer than 5 percent of potentially eligible Tennesseans have been able to acquire a completed certificate of restoration of voting rights and have tried to register to vote, according to the lawsuit.
Voting rights advocates say that the case also highlights the racial disparity in the prosecution of voter fraud cases.
“What we see consistently is honest mistakes made by returning citizens are penalized to the max, and true bad intentions are not being penalized to the same extent,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, a government watchdog group. “And usually in those cases the defendants are white.”
In October, Donald Kirk Hartle, a white Republican voter, was charged with two counts of voter fraud in Las Vegas after he forged his dead wife’s signature to vote with her ballot. He was sentenced in November to one year of probation, The Associated Press reported.
Edward Snodgrass, a white Republican official in Ohio, forged his dead father’s signature on an absentee ballot in 2020 and was charged with illegal voting, NBC News reported. As part of a plea agreement, he served three days in jail last year, The Delaware Gazette reported.