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Kentucky Restores Voting Rights for Former Prisoners, then Reverses Course

On November 24, 2015, two weeks before the end of his term, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed an executive order that restored the right to vote to certain convicted felons. Less than a month later, on December 22, incoming governor Matt Bevin overturned that order on the grounds that it violated the state’s constitution. The government giveth and the government taketh away.

Kentucky is one of only a few states that do not automatically restore voting rights to those with criminal convictions after they have completed their sentences, and an estimated 140,000 Kentuckians do not have the right to vote. Governor Bevin’s move puts Kentucky back on the short list of states that largely ban ex-felons from voting. Most states have some form of voting restrictions due to felony convictions; some don’t let parolees or probationers vote, while 10 states limit voting even after a prison sentence has been fully served. Only Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise people with criminal records, who can vote even while incarcerated.

Although ex-felons in Kentucky who completed the voting restoration process before Beshear left office will be able to retain their voting rights, all other convicted felons must individually appeal to the governor’s office. Civil rights activists claim this process is slow and effectively impossible.

State Rep. Darryl Owens told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he was “extremely disappointed with the executive order on felon voting rights, which to me goes against promises Governor Bevin made during his campaign. I will continue championing the amendment that will give voters a chance to put Kentucky in line with the vast majority of states on this issue.”


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