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Health of Tennessee Democracy Questioned in National Survey

PHOTO: Tennessee ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to the health of its democracy, according to a report released this month by the Center for American Progress. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Tennessee ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to the health of its democracy, according to a report released this month by the Center for American Progress. Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause/Morguefile.
July 16, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee is receiving national attention for having an "unhealthy" democracy. That's the assessment of a national report released by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, which awards letter grades in three categories.

The report, titled Health of State Democracies, awarded the Volunteer State an F in Ballot Accessibility. Report co-author Lauren Harmon says democracy isn't, and must never be, a partisan issue.

"These are common sense things most people should agree on, unless their ultimate goal is in fact to impact the outcome of elections," she says, "either by making it harder to vote, or making it so that money is seen as having the same weight in election as someone's actual speech."

According to Harmon, one of the factors considered in evaluating Tennessee's democratic health was the lack of online voter registration. Another factor was the lack of a "no-fault" absentee voting system, whereby voters can cast a mail ballot without having to have a government-approved excuse. Harmon says that doesn't provide help for residents unable to vote because of work.

Harmon says Tennessee received a D-minus in the Representation in State Government category because elected officials do not always reflect the demographics of their community.

"This is one of the places that Tennessee really needs to improve," she says. "There's not even half as many women in elected office as their ought to be, and less than a third of people of color who should be in elective office, given their share of the population as a whole."

Tennessee's voter I.D. law and felony disenfranchisement laws – which requires most residents convicted of a crime to petition a court for restoration of rights – are additional factors in why the state received low marks.

Overall, Tennessee ranks 49th in the nation for the health of its democracy.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN