On Tuesday, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, sucker-punching the largely GOP state one last time before he leaves office, issued an executive order granting the right to vote to roughly 140,000 nonviolent felons whose sentences have been completed.
Gov. Steven L. Beshear, a Democrat, ignored the fact that his state was one of only three states, along with Florida and Iowa, imposing a lifetime voting ban on felons who did not receive a special exemption from the governor. He pontificated, “Once an individual has served his or her time and paid all restitution, society expects them to reintegrate into their communities and become law-abiding and productive citizens. A key part of that transition is the right to vote.”
Matt Bevin, the GOP governor-elect, supported the idea, according to spokeswoman Jessica Ditto, who asserted, “Governor-elect Bevin has said many times that the restoration of voting rights for certain offenders is the right thing to do.” She added that Bevin will consider the matter.
Kentucky’s state Constitution prevents felons from voting unless they receive a special pardon. Earlier this year, a proposal to change the law passed in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, but the Republican-controlled Senate barred its passage.
In addition to the 140,000 nonviolent felons whose sentences have been completed, 30,000 more criminals in prison or on probation for nonviolent offenses will soon be able to vote, according to the Brennan Center.
Claims that state felon disenfranchisement laws violate the Voting Rights Act also have been dismissed in the courts. What is more, as the Eleventh Circuit said when it concluded that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act did not apply to Florida’s voting rules for felons, any contrary view would raise “serious constitutional problems because such an interpretation allows a congressional statute to override the text of the Constitution.”