League Releases 2019 Felony Disenfranchisement Report

January 29, 2019

For Immediate Release

 Contact:

Wanda Lynch, President, 502-875-6481

 Judy Johnson, KY LWV Chair, Felon Voting Rights, 859-806-1309

 kentuckylwv@gmail.com 

2019 Report: Kentucky Felony Voting Law Bars OVER 312,000 fRom Polls;

126,000 MORE BANNED SINCE 2006 REPORT

  • Kentucky is one of three states to ban former felons from voting.
  • Kentucky ranks 3rd in rate of disenfranchisement; 1st in disenfranchisement of African Americans.
  • 312,000 Kentuckians are currently disenfranchised, 126,000 more than reported in 2006 study, a 67% increase.
  • Kentuckians by a 2-1 margin support automatic restoration of voting rights upon completion of sentence.
  • The 2016 expungement bill has not solved the problem of felon disenfranchisement.
  • Statements of the reasons for a governor’s decisions to approve or deny restoration applications are not currently available and open to public inspection as required by the Kentucky Constitution.

 LOUISVILLE, KY- The League of Women Voters of Kentucky released a state report today, Felony Disenfranchisement in The Commonwealth of Kentucky: A Report of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, January 2019, showing Kentucky has the third highest rate of citizens and the 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 similar studies conducted in 2006, 2013 and 2017.

According to the report, Kentucky is one of only three states to enforce lifetime voting bans on all persons with felony convictions. Of the other two, Iowa’s governor has pledged to correct this injustice and Virginia’s governor approves almost all applications. There are over 312,000 disenfranchised residents in Kentucky. This is an increase of more than 126,000 since the figures reported by the League in its 2006 report.

One of every 11 adults in Kentucky is ineligible to vote due to a previous felony conviction, a rate of 9.1 percent, nearly three times the national average of 2.47 percent or one in 40. Among African Americans, almost one in four is disenfranchised, a rate of 26.2 percent, more than triple the national rate of 9.1 percent.  The report also finds that 92 percent of those disenfranchised live in the community and 78 percent have completed their full sentence.

In 2016, the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 40, allowing persons with certain Class D felony convictions to apply to have their felonies expunged. Since that time the felony records or 2,032 persons have been expunged, allowing them the right to vote. Those persons, along with about 11,500 whose voting rights have been restored through partial pardon by governors, comprise less than 1 percent of those currently disenfranchised.

Kentucky’s lifetime denial of voting rights is among the most burdensome felony disenfranchisement policies in the nation. The Kentucky Constitution grants the power to restore voting rights at the discretion of the governor.  Section 77 of the Kentucky Constitution states that the governor “shall have power to remit fines and forfeitures, commute sentences, grant reprieves and pardons, except in case of impeachment, and he shall file with each application therefor a statement of the reasons for his decision thereon, which application and statement shall always be open to public inspection.” Statements of the reasons for the governor’s decisions are not currently available and open to public inspection.

According to a December 2018 survey, a majority of Kentuckians, across political affiliation, gender and all ages, support the automatic restoration of voting rights for persons who complete their felony sentence. Overall support is 2-1 with 66 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed.

League recommendations include:

  • Place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to restore voting rights to felons once sentencing has been fully completed
  • Increase public education about the restoration process and available resources
  • Increase assistance to individuals eligible to have their voting rights restored
  • Release voting restoration application and approval figures annually
  • Comply with the Kentucky Constitution and make public a statement of the reasons for the governor’s decisions on applications for reinstatement of voting rights
  • Reduce the $500 application fee for expungement of felony records
  • Expand felony expungement

“Kentucky has the opportunity to join other states in expanding the vote.  Last year, Florida voters overwhelmingly expanded voting rights to residents after completing their criminal sentence,” said Nicole D. Porter, Director of Advocacy of The Sentencing Project.  “Since 1997, twenty-three states including Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas expanded voting rights to justice involved residents,” said Porter.

“Voting rights restoration is vital to building solid communities of fully engaged citizens. The American Probation and Parole Association supports efforts to remove this irrational restriction from the citizens of Kentucky barred from the voting booth,” said Veronica Cunningham, APPA Executive Director.  “The APPA steadfastly supports legislation to restore voting rights to those who have lost that right due to a criminal conviction. There is no evidence that restricting the right to vote does anything to create safer communities, but there is ample research that voting enhances civic engagement and aids in reentry.

“When we show felons who have paid their debt to society that they are allowed to vote, we are saying that they are citizens again. Studies show that the rate of recidivism goes down when a felon feels he/she can fully participate in our democracy.”  The American Probation and Parole Association represents over 30,000 professionals working in community corrections in the United States.

The report, Felony Disenfranchisement in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: A Report of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, January 2019 along with the 2006, 2013 and 2017 reports and the December 2018 Survey Report are available at lwvky.org/about/publications/.

Additional contacts:

Nicole Porter, nporter@sentencingproject..org

The Sentencing Project, 202-628-0871

 

Diane Kincaid, dkincaid@csg.org

American Probation and Parole Association, 859-244-8196

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.  The League takes positions only after deliberation and consensus from local Leagues across the state. Members include both women and men.

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