Kentucky Takes a Baby Step on Restoring Voting Rights For People With Felony Convictions

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Kentucky is one of three states in the nation that imposes a lifetime voting ban on felons. But a bipartisan group is trying to bypass its idiot governor and fix that.


On Friday, state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 238, per the Lexington Herald-Leader. The legislation is just the first step: If passed, the bill would allow citizens of the state to vote on a constitutional amendment that would grant felons that complete their sentence and probation the right to vote. Anyone convicted of sex crimes, murder, or election-related bribery would be excluded from that crowd. Joining McGarvey in supporting the bill is the ACLU, a think-tank founded by the Koch Brothers, and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky—an odd coalition if there ever was one.

Still, it’s not much. In fact, aside from Iowa and Virginia, it’s the bare minimum compared to what most other states have in place—but as evidenced by its ideologically diverse proponents, anything is better than the 19th century policy in place now. In his news conference introducing the bill, McGarvey said if passed, SB 238 would affect 312,000 felons in the Bluegrass State. He also added that the vote wouldn’t be available for a state-wide vote until November 2020, according to the paper.

Now, you won’t be surprised to learn all these hoops are because of Gov. Matt Bevin, one of the worst and most bizarre governors in the game right now. In November 2015, Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order that allowed felons that completed their sentence and probation and paid restitution to participate in the voting process. Beshear doesn’t really deserve much credit here, considering 1) it was the bare minimum and, 2) he waited until the final days of his term to do it. But, again, it bumped Kentucky out of the despicable group it’s in now, so it was a net positive.

Unfortunately, because it was an executive order, his predecessor could very easily undo it, if he wanted. And Bevin really wanted to. A month after Beshear issued his executive order, Bevin rescinded it, saying it would require a constitutional amendment to make that change. In the three-plus years since, Bevin has basically functioned like the asshole standing on the garden hose, restoring rights to Kentucky citizens with felony convictions a couple dozen at a time.

SB 238 is a long way from justice, or anything resembling a moral response to what the state has inflicted on its citizens in the era of mass incarceration. But come November 2019, Kentucky will have an opportunity to kick Bevin from office and replace him with a competent governor. Then, a year later, those same voters will hopefully be able to rise up and restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens. That, or Bevin will get another terms and everything will continue to be Bad. I give it a 50/50.