Restoring the right to vote

Published 11:03 am Friday, February 15, 2019

More than 312,000 Kentuckians cannot vote. And it is all because of a felony conviction.

Those findings are from a report by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, which says there has been a 68 percent increase in those who can’t vote because of felony convictions since 2006.

Kentucky is one of just three states, including Iowa and Virginia, that impose lifetime voting bans on those with felony convictions. The League said 92 percent of those with felony convictions have been released from prison or jail and live in the community, but cannot vote.

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“I think it is not a point of honor to be possibly the last state that permanently disenfranchises people,” said Judy Johnson, the felon and voting rights chairwoman for the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

The Kentucky Constitution bans convicted felons from voting, holding public office, owning a gun and serving on a jury. The governor can restore voting rights to convicted felons with a pardon. And in 2016, the state legislature passed a law allowing people convicted of nonviolent felonies to have their records expunged, a process that includes a $500 fee.

The court has granted 2,032 expungement requests between July 15, 2016, and Dec. 31, 2018, according to the report. The prior three governors have issued 11,500 partial pardons to restore voting rights. But since 2016, the report noted the number of people who have completed their prison sentences yet still cannot vote jumped 88.6 percent.

And while we believe those convicted of a felony should sacrifice certain rights, we also believe in second chances for most.

We believe it is time for the Commonwealth to revisit this issue and state Rep. George Brown has a proposal that would do just that. The amendment to the state’s constitution would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons once they have completed their prison sentences.

If state lawmakers approve the proposal, the amendment would be put on the ballot in 2020 for voters to decide.

We believe this is a common sense idea that should be supported.

While not all felons turn their life around, there are countless ones who do. And those who have turned their life around should have the right to vote and make a positive impact in their community.

Richmond Register