Teena Halbig, of the League of Women Voters, testified at a hearing on restoring former felons’ voting rights on September 22, 2009 before the Joint Interim Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affaairs Committee. State Representative Jesse Crenshaw has prefiled BR 2(formerly HB70) which will provide for automatically restoring former felons voting rights once they have paid their debt to society. The following is a copy of her testimony:
I’m Teena Halbig, immediate past state President of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. I am here today to represent the League. Additionally, as current state President of the KY Division of the Unites Nations Association and spokesperson, I want to let you knowthat we are part of the Coalition of Groups supporting the restoration of voting rights to former felons. Today is a great and exciting day when President Obama is addressing and visiting the United Nations General Assembly. He will also be the first sitting US President to Chair a UN Security Council meeting.
In the League’s seven page report (available at http://www.lwvlouisville.org) released in 2007 and entitled “Felony Disenfranchisement in the Commonwealth of KY.” The findings arre shocking: 1 in 4 African Americans can’t vote in KY versus nationally 1 in 12 and overall 1 in 17 versus 1 in 41 nationally. “In the US, nearly two million African Americans – or 8.25% of the African American population are disenfranchised, a rate 3 times the national average.” Note: statement from Felon Disenfranchisement & American Democracy 253 (Oxford Dictionary Press 2006). There is great concern about applicable human rights guarantees recognized under American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, etc. Once again, Ky lags behaind all other states except Virginia for disenfranchisement of former felons.
80% of the population queried in a study wants rights restored. The League and UN Association asks for re-enfranchisement of former felons. The National Sentencing Project (for a decade had lead and advocated for reform at federal and state levels) reports an international momentum in “support of reform among treaty monitoring bodies at the UN and in jurisprudence in a number of countries.” Note: statement from September 21, 2009 Disenfranchisement news from the Sentencing Project.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee and others are documenting the impact of disenfranchisement policies. And in 1963 President John Kennedy founded the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) to secure, through law, equal justice via pro bono help to represent vicims of discrimination and more. In 2005, No.2, 681, Eur.Ct.H.R. in Hirst v. United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights found the right to vote is indeed a right and not a privilege. Others found: “Foreign constitutional courts have found that the disqualification of prisoner from voting violates basic democratic principles.” #47. Denial via blanket voting ban on persons with various convictions does not serve a legitimate aim of the state and is disproportionate to the offence charged or sentence imposed.”
Basically, former felons don’t feel like part of society, lack self respect, one told me he wouldn’t even say the Pledge of Alliance. They are relegated to a civic isolation and deprived of a sense of collective identity and membership in the community.
The League Recommendations to enhance voting:
– A ballot measure to consider amending the KY Constitution so that people living in the community and who have completed their sentence have their voting rights restored automatically. Let the public vote on this issue.
– To inform prisoners about the process to apply and offer technical help with accessing records. Help them dot the i’s and cross the t’s as well as remembering to Sign the application!
– 3 months prior to completion of sentence, provide assistance (could be organizations helping or current employees).
– Public education by Sec. of State, Dept. of Corrections, Adm. Office of the Courts to tell former felons to also register to vote after rights are restored, etc.
– Having the number of voting resotration applications and number of those approved given by The Department of corrections, The Sec.of State’s Office and the Governor’s Office each year.
In conclusion, voting is the most fundamental expression of citizenship. Both LWV and UNA believe that every citizen of our commonwealth should be protected in the right to vote.