Kentucky governor to restore ex-felon voting rights

Kentucky governor to restore ex-felon voting rights
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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) will sign an executive order Thursday restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 felons who have completed their sentences, he said Tuesday.
 
Beshear, who narrowly beat Gov. Matt Bevin (R) in November, had pledged to restore those rights during the campaign. He unveiled the executive order during his inaugural address Tuesday.
 
“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches me forgiveness,” Beshear said. “By restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone counts in Kentucky. We all matter.”
 
Kentucky is one of two states, along with Iowa, that denies voting rights to those who are convicted of a felony. The commonwealth’s constitution gives the sole power to re-enfranchise former felons to the governor.
 
Beshear did not offer details of his proposal, and it was not clear who would be covered by the order. The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit group that studies correction trends and the prison population, has reported there are more than 312,000 disenfranchised felons in Kentucky, including more than a quarter of the state’s African American population.
 
A spokeswoman for Beshear’s new administration declined to offer details of the plan Wednesday, ahead of its rollout.
 
Voting rights groups have made re-enfranchising reformed prisoners a key pillar of their efforts to expand access to the ballot box in recent years. Most states do not allow those in prison or those on parole or probation for felony crimes to cast a vote, but they restore voting rights when someone emerges from the criminal justice system. Two states — Vermont and Maine — allow everyone to vote, even if they are in prison.
 
“It’s absolutely a huge deal. I think it’s a big signal of progress we’ve made as a country,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program. “It has been a slow burn of states making progress on this for the last few decades. In the last three or four years, it seems like the momentum is picking up.”
 
“It’s absolutely important for reintegration of returning citizens to have a voice and be recognized as equal citizens,” Sweren-Becker said.
 
Florida voters in 2018 passed a constitutional amendment to allow former felons to vote, though the state legislature has sought to make changes that would keep some people from voting until they pay court fines or fees. 
 
A Nevada law that took effect this year allowed more reformed felons to regain the vote. Louisiana legislators re-enfranchised about 36,000 people in March. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and his successor, Ralph Northam (D), have each moved to restore voting rights to former felons.
 
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) is also pushing her state to let more former felons vote. Reynolds has said she supports a constitutional amendment easing the barriers that exist in Iowa.
 
“Iowans believe in second chances and we should help those individuals who want to re-enter society by restoring their voting rights,” Reynolds said in March, when she rolled out a new application for former felons who wanted their rights restored.
 
Beshear’s father, Steve Beshear (D), who served two terms as Kentucky’s governor, issued an executive order just before leaving office in 2015 meant to allow former felons to vote and to hold public office. That order excluded people convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes and crimes related to elections. 
 
But Bevin rescinded that order days after taking office. Bevin allowed former felons to petition his office to win back their right to vote, but he granted just under 1,000 of those applications, according to a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Fair Elections Center.
 
It is likely that Andy Beshear’s executive order will also have carve-outs limiting some former felons, though the governor’s office declined to answer questions about the pending order.