NASHVILLE (WSMV) - Convicted felons released from prison may soon have a voice about who gets elected.

It wouldn't matter what crime they committed.

Hundreds of thousands of people who have felonies on their records in Tennessee could be impacted by the proposal.

Democratic State Sen. Brenda Gilmore said if you served your time in prison, you should be allowed to vote.

When you're convicted of a felony in Tennessee, you lose your right to vote.

Robert Sherrill knows what that's like. He served five years in prison for drug charges and escaping from a Department of Children's Services home.

"I mean we made mistakes, we did our time, but once we're released back into society, I think it's important that we have the same rights as our constituents," Sherrill said.

Sherrill now has his voting rights back after applying through the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office.

Former Governor Bill Haslam also pardoned him.

It wasn't an easy process, but he said it was worth it.

"If I don't have a voice to vote, then who am I? I have no sense of entity," Sherrill said.

Right now, the crime and when it happened determines if you're eligible to vote.

"If you've been to prison, you're out, if you're on parole, and if you are on a payment plan paying restitution to the courts, then you should be allowed to receive your voter registration and vote," State Sen. Brenda Gilmore said.

Gilmore said around 400,000 people in the state could be impacted.

She said it can take eligible convicted felons years to get their voting rights back because they have to pay all of their court costs first.

"We shouldn't penalize people because they're poor and have to be on a payment plan to pay their court costs," Gilmore said.

The bill has been introduced in the House and Senate. Now it's up to state lawmakers to decide if they want it to move forward.

News4 contacted several state lawmakers representing the Midstate to get their thoughts.

Republican State Sen. Steve Dickerson said he supports simplifying the process and removing barriers.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Cameron Taylor is a national Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in December 2018.

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