Democratic Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, who is set to leave office and hand over the governorship to Republican Matt Bevin next month, signed an executive order on Tuesday which will grant voting rights and the power to run for office to some non-violent felons who have completed their sentences.
The Brennan Center for Justice points out that “Kentucky was one of only three states — along with Florida and Iowa — to permanently bar citizens with past convictions from voting. But its constitution does grant the governor broad authority to restore voting rights.” The non-partisan public policy institute’s analysis of Beshear’s executive order found that it “will make it possible for more than 170,000 Kentucky citizens with past criminal convictions to get back their right to vote — an estimated 140,000 are immediately eligible to have their rights restored and another 30,000 will be over time.”
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, ex-offenders convicted of treason, violent crimes, sex offenses, and bribery are not eligible to have their voting rights restored under Beshear’s order.
“The old system is unfair and counterproductive. We need to be smarter about our criminal justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes and [more likely] to be productive members of society,” said Gov. Beshear at a press conference announcing the executive order’s signing.
The Nation notes that Kentucky Republican Governor-elect Matt Bevin, who will become governor next month and who could theoretically reverse Beshear’s order, supports the policy. Bevin commented on the subject during his failed 2013 campaign to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), saying, “I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate that we would take from somebody something that could be restored to them, that the nation would be better to have them in possession of all their rights.”
The executive order creates a rights restoration process not only for individuals who have already completed sentences for non-violent crimes, but also for those who will complete their sentences in the future.
“Before today, all citizens with felony convictions [in Kentucky] had no hope for rights restoration unless they could personally persuade the governor to restore rights to them individually,” wrote the Brennan Center for Justice.