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Restoring voting rights for felons at heart of proposed constitutional amendment

This story was originally published by Kentucky Today.

The League of Women Voters of Kentucky held a press conference Tuesday to announce support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to all convicted felons, once they complete their prison sentences.

The event coincided with the League releasing a report stating that 161,595 Kentuckians with felony conviction are currently disenfranchised. This, despite an executive order issued by Gov. Andy Beshear when he took office, which restored voting rights once sentences are complete, except for those convicted of violent or sex crimes.

House Bill 97, sponsored by Rep. Keturah Herron, D-Louisville, is one of the measures they support.  Its ballot language states: “Are you in favor of amending Section 145 of the Constitution of Kentucky to automatically restore the voting rights of persons who have been convicted of a felony, not involving treason, bribery in an election, or election fraud, upon the completion of any term of imprisonment, probation, or parole, and to automatically  restore their civil rights five years after the completion of any term of imprisonment,  probation, or parole?”

Herron said it’s important that people have their voting rights restored. “We have to make sure that people feel whole in their own community. I feel that having voting rights restored is about dignity, humanity, and letting people know that we see you and we want to hear you.”

Another version supported by the League is Senate Bill 164, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Storm, R-London.  The language of his bill is nearly identical to Herron’s except the waiting period for restoration after completing a sentence is only three years instead of five.  Storm was not present at the press conference.

Fran Wagner, president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, noted, “The future of democracy in Kentucky rests on the ability of all citizens to have their voices heard.  A permanent ban on voting for those with a felony conviction not only silences 161,596 Kentuckians, but it also undermines the fundamental principles of our democracy.”

If either of the two proposals clear the General Assembly, they would not appear on the ballot until the November 2024 General Election, as is provided in the Constitution.