Advocates pleaded with Kentucky lawmakers Tuesday for legislation that could restore voting rights to some former felons, but Republicans say support remains murky in the Senate — where similar bills have died for years. Felons currently must petition the governor to regain voting rights under the Kentucky constitution, and Democrats are proposing changes that would allow most non-violent felons to vote once they have completed their sentence. Advocates say Kentucky is one of only four states that permanently bars felons from casting a ballot — a practice that hits hardest on African Americans and denies former convicts a chance to fully return to civic life, they argued. “I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake,” said Tayna Fogle, a former felon who works with Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, a left-leaning grassroots organization. “I can contribute to this community, and voting is very important to me.”
Myrna Perez, from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, testified that more than one in five African-American adults in Kentucky cannot vote, but that studies show voting rights are related to reduced recidivism. She also noted that the proposed changes in Kentucky are still restrictive compared to the rest of the nation.
“This does not have to be a partisan issue,” she said. “We have seen great progress on this issue with Republican leadership.”
Both bills seek amendments to the constitution, which requires support in a voter referendum, and they would exempt anyone convicted of treason, intentional killing, a sex crime, or bribery. Similar measures have passed out of the Democratic-led House for the past seven years, but stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate.