In a list found on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, state after state after state is on the books as restoring the voting rights of felons upon the completion of their sentence, probation and/or parole. Kentucky is not — but it is time for the Bluegrass State to join the ranks of the fair and enlightened. House Bill 70 proposes to amend the Kentucky state constitution “to allow persons convicted of a felony other than treason, intentional killing, a sex crime or bribery the right to vote after expiration of probation, final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence.” The amendment would be placed before voters for ratification or rejection. At the very least, the people of Kentucky ought to have the opportunity to weigh in on whether to correct the state’s virtual disenfranchisement for ex-felons, even after they have served their prescribed sentences. To allow a governor’s restoration of civil rights as the only way back to citizenship is unfair and onerous.
As state Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, one of 13 legislators whose names are on the current bill, says, “If you do the crime, you do the time. If you do the time, you should get your rights back” — and that’s what HB 70 would do, except for those ex-felons whose crimes place them outside the areas covered in the measure. Mr. Burch says the “hang ’em high” stance of elected officials has kept the bill from advancing in the past — that and the suspicion that the new voters might be more likely to vote Democratic than Republican.
There is an element of “strange bedfellows” in support of restoration. In a recent Republican debate, former Sen. Rick Santorum, who supports restoration of voting rights for those who have served their sentences, pressed former Gov. Mitt Romney, seen as a more moderate candidate, about his own stand, which was not as clear-cut as Mr. Santorum’s. In his position, the Pennsylvania conservative finds himself in synch with the American Civil Liberties Union.