overnor Steve Beshear, Democrat of Kentucky, only has two weeks left in office, but he’s determined to go out with a bang. Beshear announced today that he is issuing an executive order Grestoring voting rights for nonviolent ex-felons who have completed their sentences. This will give 170,000 ex-offenders the opportunity to register to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
It’s a huge victory for voting rights in the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky is one of only three states, along with Florida and Iowa, where ex-felons cannot vote unless the governor personally restores their rights—preventing 7.4 percent of the voting-age population in the state and 22.3 percent of African-Americans from voting after serving their time.
Nationally, 5.85 million Americans can’t vote because of felon-disenfranchisement laws, according to the Sentencing Project, including 2.2 million African-Americans.
“The old system is unfair and counterproductive,” Beshear said at a news conference today. “We need to be smarter about our criminal-justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes and [more likely] to be productive members of society.”
“I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate that we would take from somebody something that could be restored to them, that the nation would be better to have them in possession of all their rights,” Bevin said when he ran for Senate in 2013. Voting-rights advocates are hopeful that he will continue Beshear’s executive action.
Here’s how the program will work, according to Tomas Lopez of the Brennan Center:
For those who have not yet completed their sentences, people eligible will get a certificate of rights restoration and a voter registration application in the mail with their discharge papers. And people who have already completed their sentences will be able to contact the state to initiate that same process.