MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Their bad choices landed them behind bars, but they will still help choose our next president.
Hundreds of felons plan on voting in the November election. More ex-cons than ever before are figuring out how to restore their voting rights.
Not everyone is able to have their voting rights restored. People convicted of murder, sex crimes or voter fraud can never go back to the polls.
For others, they have to make sure their sentence has expired and all restitution and court costs are paid before they can vote again.
“Being in and out of jail the way I have, to actually feel that I can get back in and be a full-fledged citizen, it would be wonderful,” Tracy Ward said.
Ward has been out of prison for a year and he says he's on the straight and narrow.
He's one of many ex-cons working to restore his voting rights. More than 260 felons across Tennessee have done so already, and more than 30 of those were in Shelby County.
“When it comes to hearing about the school board elections, presidential elections and you see all those campaign ads, they don't mean anything to you if you can't vote,” DeAndre Brown said.
Brown heads up Lifeline to Success, an offender re-entry program that is now helping ex-cons like Tracy get back to the polls.
“A lot of the resources we have, if we just look for them, they are there,” Ward said.
The effort to restore felons' voting rights comes as a new law is scheduled to go into effect in July. It will make it easier for people convicted of non-violent crimes to have their records expunged.
“If they have one conviction from the late 80's and it's been holding them back, keeping them from getting a job, keeping them from leasing an apartment, if they meet the criteria and can get it off their record and live without that burden on their shoulders, hopefully they can pitch in and contribute to society,” said Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.
More than 2,000 felons in Tennessee had their voting rights restored in time for the 2008 presidential election. While numbers this year have been sluggish, many expect things to pickup as the November election nears.
For more information on restoring voting rights click here
. Lifeline to Success can be reached at (901) 729-6537.