Some Cannon County citizens who have already been convicted of a crime could soon face the possibility of having another one added to their record following action by the Cannon County Election Commission Monday night.
Under state law, it is illegal for persons convicted of a felony after May 18, 1981 to vote in local, state and national elections.
As of July 1 of last year there were 17 convicted felons on the Cannon County voter roll.
Of those 17, eight had voted in recent elections, meaning they committed a crime.
The names of those persons have been turned over to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution, according to Administrator of Elections Stan Dobson.
"We should prosecute felons who have voted when they knew they were ineligible to vote," Election Commission member Sue Patrick said Monday.
Fellow commissioners Jackie Gannon, Lindbergh Dennis, and Louise Mayo agreed, and voted to approve Patrick's motion. Commissioner Matt Studd was unable to attend due to a time conflict.
It is a problem that has been occurring all across Tennessee recently.
Last week, a grand jury in Hardeman County indicted 18 people on the offense of illegal voter registration and/or illegal voting.
The indictments were the result of a cooperative investigation involving the coordinator of elections from the Tennessee Secretary of State's Office, the Hardeman County Election Commission and the 25th Judicial District Attorney General's Office.
The people are charged with illegally registering to vote and/or illegally voting at various times during the election cycles of 2008 and 2009, after they were convicted of disqualifying felony offenses.
Illegal voting or registration is a Class D felony.
And late last year, the Knox County Election Commission purged 204 felons from the voter rolls after learning they had either voted or registered to vote after their convictions, officials said.
Of that number, only 123 have actually cast ballots since 2003, and it's not believed that enough voted in any race to call into question the election results, according to Knox County Administrator of Elections Greg Mackay.
The discovery came after the Tennessee Department of Correction sent county election officials a list of felons' Social Security numbers, closing a hole that had allowed some felons to get onto the voter rolls unnoticed, Mackay said.
People convicted of felonies in Knox County have routinely been prohibited from voting because the local criminal courts report felony convictions to the Election Commission, Mackay said. The system was efficient when it came to identifying local felons, and since 2003 it had allowed officials to drop 2,125 people from the voter rolls, he said.
The problem with the process was that it sometimes allowed people who had been convicted of felonies in other counties to slip through because election officials lacked an independent source of information and were forced instead to rely on the veracity of prospective voters when they filled out the paperwork to register, he said.
"Unfortunately, sometimes felons lie," he said.
Cannon County election officials say they have had difficulty receiving reports of felony convictions from the local circuit court clerks office in a timely fashion, and has had to resort to sending a certified letter to the clerks’ office requesting the information.
The state has been pushing county election offices to purge both felons and deceased voters from their rolls.
Last year, Tennessee’s Division of Elections identified at least 9,800 deceased voters who should be removed from voter registration rolls across the state.
Tennessee drew unwanted national publicity in 2005 when it was discovered someone had illegally voted in a state Senate race by using names of the deceased.
When Secretary of State Tre Hargett appointed Mark Goins as Coordinator of Elections last year, they set a goal to remove deceased voters from the voter rolls.
“Secretary Hargett made it very clear to me during the interview process he wanted dead people off the voter rolls,” Goins said. “It is despicable that someone would use the names of the deceased to commit voter fraud. Dead people can’t vote. Our goal is to make sure they don’t.”
As a matter of practice, county election administrators purge deceased voters on a regular basis. However, sometimes names of the deceased voters aren’t caught during that process.
Goins’ staff compared the state voter registration database to a national death master list provided by the Social Security Administration. The staff found about 9,800 cases in which a name, Social Security number and a date of birth matched on both lists. That information was forwarded to the respective county election administrators to double check for accuracy before the names were purged.
In addition to the 9,800 “hard” matches, about 2,200 “soft” matches were identified. Soft matches include instances in which a name and Social Security number matched or a name and birth date matched, but not all three. Local election administrators have been instructed to investigate the soft matches as well.
“We owe it to properly registered Tennesseans to ensure the voter rolls include only eligible voters,” said Secretary Hargett, who oversees the Division of Elections. “Mr. Goins and his staff are working diligently to provide the utmost confidence in Tennessee’s elections.”
(SOURCES: The Jackson Sun, The Knoxville News-Sentinel and the State Election Commission)