New Kentucky governor restores voting rights for more than 100,000 people


A new executive order by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear will restore rights to those with nonviolent felony convictions, who previously lost their ability to vote.

Kentucky's new Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear ordered that voting rights be restored to more than 100,000 people with nonviolent felony convictions on Thursday. The move, a fulfillment of one of Beshear's campaign promises, is a direct reversal of an early act by his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin.

"Kentucky [has been] one of a few states with lifetime disenfranchisement — until today," Beshear said during a ceremony at the state's capitol rotunda.

"Looking out at this crowd there are so many people who have worked so hard for today [...]," he added. "... I hope today is just the start of righting a lot of injustices."

Beshear announced the move earlier in the week in his inaugural address.

"My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness," he said Tuesday. "That’s why on Thursday, I will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to over a hundred thousand men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now. They deserve to participate in our great democracy."

He added, "By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone in Kentucky counts. We all matter."

Kentucky has one of the strictest prohibitions on ex-felons voting. In 2015, outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, the current governor's father, signed a similar executive order to reenfranchise nearly 140,000 former felons.

But even though Bevin, his successor, had run on a platform supporting voting-rights restoration for those who have served their time, he revoked the executive order upon taking office.

Over his tenure as governor, Bevin was criticized for "foot-dragging" as he granted individual restoration requests on a case-by-case basis and left a backlog of more than 1,400 unanswered requests.

Several states adopted disenfranchisement laws after the Civil War to keep black voters off of the voting rolls. A disproportionately high number (26%) of the disenfranchised voters in Kentucky are black in a state where black people make up less than 9% of the citizenry.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.