FRANKFORT, Ky. (WEHT) – More than 140,000 Kentuckians who have paid their debt to society may now be eligible to vote, Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Thursday.
As promised, on his third day in office, Gov. Beshear was surrounded by voting rights supporters as he signed a civil rights restoration executive order giving many Kentuckians who have completed their sentences for nonviolent offenses a second chance.
“My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness and that is why I am restoring voting rights to over one hundred forty thousand Kentuckians who have done wrong in the past, but are doing right now,” said Beshear. “I want to lift up all of our families and I believe we have a moral responsibility to protect and expand the right to vote.”
“Every citizen who has paid their debt has earned the right to return to full citizenship. To withhold that is simply wrong,” said Justice Mary Noble, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. “The cabinet embraces the executive order and we look forward to assisting those who qualify with the restoration of their civil rights.”
The specific crimes excluded from the restoration executive order include treason; bribery in an election; and violent offenses, including all rapes and sexual abuses, homicide, fetal homicide, first and second-degree assault and assault under extreme emotional disturbance. A complete list of excluded offenses is provided in the executive order.
Before Gov. Beshear’s action, Kentucky was just one of two states in the nation that imposed a lifetime ban on voting for all people with felony convictions. Beshear said it is wrong that Kentucky has the third highest voter disenfranchisement rate in the country and that nearly one in 10 Kentuckians, and nearly one in four African-Americans, are not allowed to vote.
“It is fundamental to our democracy for returning citizens to regain their right to vote. So it is very encouraging that Gov. Andy Beshear is starting his tenure by taking such a crucial and transformative step,” said Rev. L. Clark Williams, chairman, The People’s Campaign Community Network. “Team Kentucky is about to become more real for more than 140,000 Kentuckians!”
“A mistake in life shouldn’t equal a life sentence,” state Rep. George Brown said. “We are a nation of second chances; forgiveness is always a better option.”
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Raoul Cunningham said, “The right to vote is one of the most valuable constitutional rights granted to most Americans and is the cornerstone of our democracy. The NAACP commends Gov. Beshear for taking this bold step in restoring the voting rights to more than 140,000 Kentuckians convicted of a crime who have served their sentences.”
“With the powerful sweep of the pen, Gov. Beshear will restore the dignity of over 140,000 people by restoring their right to vote,” said Rev. David Snardon, head pastor at Joshua Tabernacle Church in Louisville. “As a Christian, it is my belief that there should be a pathway to forgiveness for mistakes made, as well as, a process to heal. This makes both possible.”
Rynn Young, of Louisville, attended today’s announcement to discuss the drug possession conviction he received at age 18 that has prevented him from voting his entire life. He now works as a sales representative and has twin 21-month-old daughters. He wants to vote so he can have a voice in determining the future for his daughters.
“Today is a day I thought I would never see,” said Young. “As a citizen of this great nation, I haven’t felt a sense of equality or belonging since my felony conviction 21 years ago. Today, Gov. Beshear has restored the feeling that my opinion on matters that affect us all does matter. I cannot thank him enough.”
Amanda Bourland, of Louisville, also spoke about the time she served time for drug and other offenses and losing her right to vote at 18. Bourland is now a coach and retention specialist at the Center for Employment Opportunities in Louisville, helping other folks who have had struggles get back on their feet. She’s working on her master’s degree in Education in Mental Health and Substance Abuse and has four sons.
“I have never had the chance to vote in my life. This means everything to me,” said Bourland. “I am beyond grateful to finally have the opportunity to be heard at the polls.”
Through Beshear’s actions, the right to hold public office is also restored to those who have completed their sentences and have met certain criteria set forth in the order, including satisfying the terms of their probation, parole or service of sentence. The order does not require eligible Kentuckians returning and reintegrating into communities to pay fees or fines to be eligible to restore their voting rights; but it does not relieve them of obligations to pay court-ordered restitution or fines.
Before today’s action, those seeking restoration of civil rights had to individually apply to the governor and request that their rights be restored. Now, those who qualify will have their rights restored automatically and, if needed, may request verification from the Department of Corrections. The implementation process is ongoing and updates will be provided.
The order also does not apply to federal convictions or convictions from other jurisdictions, or to those who have pending criminal charges or arrests. The order is not a full pardon – the conviction will remain.
For a copy of the executive order, click here.
Beshear also supports a constitutional amendment to preserve the executive order.
Thursday’s announcement was one of two promises Gov. Beshear has fulfilled since taking office, Tuesday, Dec. 10. On Tuesday, Gov. Beshear reset the Kentucky Board of Education by appointing new members who value public education. The board is expected to commence a national search for the very best commissioner of education, one who is also committed to public education.
(This story was originally published on December 12, 2019)