Speed Reads

Voting Rights

Outgoing Kentucky governor grants voting rights to 140,000 felons

On Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) issued an executive order granting voting rights to about 140,000 nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences. "Once an individual has served his or her time and paid all restitution, society expects them to reintegrate into their communities and become law-abiding and productive citizens," Beshear said at a news conference. "A key part of that transition is the right to vote."

Beshear noted that Governor-elect Matt Bevin (R) or some future governor can reverse his order, and urged the state legislature to amend the state constitution. Bevin has been supportive of restoring some felon voting rights, but his transition team said it had no prior warning of Beshear's order and needs to study it. Kentucky was one of three states, along with Iowa and Florida, where felons were barred from voting for life unless they received a special exemption from the governor. These restrictions disproportionately affect African-Americans, and in Kentucky, more than 22 percent of black voters are disenfranchised, three times the national average and among the highest rates in the nation, according state Sen. Gerald Neal (D).

Beshear's order automatically restores voting rights for newly released felons who were not convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery, or treason. Felons already out of prison will have to fill out a form available online or at parole and probation offices. Eligible felons will also get back the right to hold public office but not possess a firearm and are not pardoned of their crimes.

"This disenfranchisement makes no sense," Beshear said. "It makes no sense because it dilutes the energy of democracy, which functions only if all classes and categories of people have a voice, not just a privileged, powerful few. It makes no sense because it defeats a primary goal of our corrections system, which is to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes."