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ISSUE: Restoring voting rights of ex-felons
OUR VIEW: Put question on the ballot
When the 2014 legislative session gets underway in January, it will mark the eighth time Kentucky lawmakers contend with the question of when and how voting rights may be restored to former felons.
During each of the previous seven sessions, legislators in the House voted to put the question on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. And session after session, their fellow lawmakers in the Senate refused to do so.
The voting rights restoration bill, BR 211, was pre-filed for the coming session by Sen. Gerald Nead, a Louisville Democrat. This bill would amend Section 145 of the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights of nonviolent felons once they have served and completed their sentences. The bill excludes felons convicted of the more serious crimes including treason, murder, sexual offenses and bribery.
As it currently stands, Kentucky, Florida and Iowa are the only states that require ex-felons to petition state governors for pardons to re-establish their voting rights.
Some might take the position that this “available, but not automatic” approach is appropriate. Far more Americans — nearly two-thirds as found through many public opinion polls on the topic — favor full and timely restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-cons who have completed their sentences.
This issue teeters on two important and understandable concerns: providing access and participation in the democratic process and maintaining public safety by firmly and fairly punishing those who break the law. Allowing a cumbersome, restrictive and subjective process to continue that requiring a pardon o reinstate voting rights for non-violent felons serves only to further damage these concerns.
The result of the past seven-year legislative stalemate is an estimated 180,000 nonviolent ex-felons in Kentucky continuing to be disenfranchised from the elective process despite having completed their sentences. Although the criminal and judicial code identifies these ex-cons as having paid the debt for their crimes to society in full, that really isn’t the case if the most basic of civil rights — voting — is denied or obstructed from them.
It’s time Kentuckians be allowed to put this issue to rest through a constitutional amendment vote.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.