Kentucky Restores Voting Rights to Former Non-Violent Felons

By McCarton Ackerman 11/25/15

Gov. Steve Beshear restored voting rights to over 100,000 former convicts.

Gov. Steve Beshear
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Kentucky is the latest state in the country to restore voting rights to people convicted of non-violent felonies, thanks to an executive order signed Tuesday by Gov. Steven Beshear. The order is part of a nationwide movement towards restoring rights to former felons, which affects nearly six million Americans.

The order will immediately restore the right to vote and to hold public office to former felons who have completed their sentences, unless they were convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery, or treason. Around 140,000 Kentuckians will have their voting rights restored, and 30,000 more will become eligible over time, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The center called the announcement “an incredible breakthrough in the movement to end criminal disenfranchisement policies nationwide.” Until now, Kentucky was one of three states in the country, alongside Florida and Iowa, to uphold a lifetime voting ban for felons.

“The right to vote is one of the most intrinsically American privileges, and thousands of Kentuckians are living, working and paying taxes in the state but are denied this basic right,” said Beshear at a press conference. “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. A key part of that transition is the right to vote.”

The governor signed the order just two weeks before leaving office. His replacement, Matt Bevin, a Republican, is expected to uphold the order since he has said he supports restoring gun and voting rights to felons.

The move has been applauded by the ACLU, particularly since disenfranchisement of non-violent felons, many of them convicted of non-violent drug crimes, disproportionately affects people and communities of color.

“The ACLU-KY applauds Gov. Beshear for taking an important step toward breaking down barriers to ballot boxes in Kentucky,” said Michael Aldridge, Kentucky executive director of the ACLU. “We know the Commonwealth’s disenfranchisement policies, some of the harshest in the country, have negatively impacted families and communities, especially those of color, by reducing their collective political voice. Studies have shown that individuals who vote are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, attend school board meetings, serve on juries and are more actively involved in their communities.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.