In a small handful of states, people convicted of a felony are automatically stripped of their voting rights, even after they’ve finished serving their sentences. Today, Kentucky took a major step to fix that problem.
Outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order on Tuesday to restore voting rights for many of the 180,000 Kentuckians who have been served a felony sentence but remain disenfranchised.
He announced the move on Twitter:
I’ve signed an EO that automatically restores the right to vote & hold public office to certain offenders who’ve served out their sentences
— Steve Beshear (@GovSteveBeshear) November 24, 2015
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that Beshear’s executive order will immediately allow 140,000 Kentuckians to restore their voting rights, and an additional 30,000 will be eligible down the road. The organization praised Beshear’s order as “an incredible breakthrough in the movement to end criminal disenfranchisement policies nationwide.”
The restoration of voting rights does not apply to ex-felons who were convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.
“The right to vote and the right to hold office are fundamental foundations of our democracy,” Beshear said in a press conference, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Yet in Kentucky, it is estimated that we deny those rights to over 180,000 thousand adults. Why? Simply because at some point in their lives they’ve been in trouble with the law. We ignore the fact that they have paid for their crimes.”
On December 8th, Beshear will be replaced by Gov.-elect Matt Bevin (R). However, during his gubernatorial campaign against Jack Conway (D), Bevin told Insider Louisville that he too supported automatically restoring the voting rights of ex-felons after they were released. Bevin even declared that he would be willing to lobby opposition within his own party on the issue.
Only a few other states, including Iowa and Florida, still automatically disenfranchise people who have been convicted of a felony. Virginia, another state that has historically stripped ex-felons of their voting rights, has taken steps away from a blanket ban.
Prior to today’s announcement, the only way an ex-felon could get his or her voting rights restored was to receive a gubernatorial pardon.