2013 Report: Kentucky Felony Voting Law Bars Over 243,000 From Polls

• Kentucky one of four states to ban former felons from voting
• Kentucky #3 in rate of disenfranchisement
• Kentucky #2 in disenfranchisement of African Americans
• 243,000 currently disenfranchised, 57,000 more than reported in 2006 study

Frankfort, KY – The League of Women Voters of Kentucky released a state report today, Felony Disenfranchisement in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, showing Kentucky has the third highest rate of citizens and the second highest rate of African Americans who have lost their right to vote despite completing their full felony sentence. This report is an updated version of a similar 2006 study.

According to the report, Kentucky is one of only four states to enforce lifetime voting bans on all persons with felony convictions resulting in the disenfranchisement of over 243,000 residents. This is an increase of more than 57,000 since the figures reported by the League in 2006.

One of every 14 adults in Kentucky is ineligible to vote due to a previous felony conviction, a rate of 7.35 percent, nearly three times the national rate of 2.5 percent. Among African Americans, almost one in five is disenfranchised, a rate of 22.3 percent, nearly triple the national rate of 7.66 percent. The report also finds that 90 percent of those disenfranchised live in the community, and 74 percent have completed their full sentence.

In 2001, the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation to simplify voter restoration for people with previous convictions resulting in an increase in restoration of voting rights, from 831 in 2000 to 1,231 in 2003. After a 2004 change in gubernatorial policy requiring an essay and three character references, there was a dramatic decline in applications and approvals to 164 in 2006. Those requirements were changed in 2008 with a new governor, resulting in an improvement in the numbers, 4,260 between 2008 and 2010. According to the report, the “difficulty of having voting rights restored greatly depends on the values or political positions of the current governor,” allowing for inconsistent and inequitable policies.

The League has a longstanding belief that “every citizen of our Commonwealth should be protected in the right to vote,” according to the new report. Kentucky League co-president, Cindy Heine said. “Our report emphasizes that the LWV in Kentucky seeks to increase citizen participation in our nation’s democracy through voting, including felons who have completed their sentence.”

League recommendations include:

• A ballot measure to allow Kentucky voters to decide whether people living in the community and who have completed their full sentence have their voting rights restored automatically.

• Reexamining and improving the current application process for restoration of voting rights.

• Providing assistance in the voter restoration process three months prior to an individual’s completion of sentence.

• Increasing public education about the process of restoring voting rights and available resources to help those wishing to vote.

• Annual release of data on the number of people applying for and being granted restoration of voting rights.

“The League was created by women who struggled many years seeking the right to vote,” said Heine. “We believe citizens who have made a mistake, should have that right reinstated once they have completed their full sentence and/or parole.”

The state League of Women Voters takes positions only after deliberation and consensus from local Leagues across the state.

Felony Disenfranchisement in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: a Report of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, January 2013 and the October 2006 report are available from the League at lwvky.org/about/publications/ .

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