Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s new governor, has only been in office a couple of weeks, but he’s already managed to re-disenfranchise tens of thousands of his state’s residents with the stroke of a pen. He did it by reversing an executive order issued late last month by his predecessor, Steven Beshear, that made as many as 140,000 Kentuckians with a nonviolent felony conviction immediately eligible to register to vote. Kentucky is one of three states, including Florida and Iowa, to impose a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of felonies. (Individuals may still petition for a restoration of their rights, which the governor decides on a case-by-case basis — an arduous, “quasi-monarchical” process.) Mr. Bevin, a Tea Party Republican, said he supports restoring voting rights to those with criminal records, but that it is an issue that should be “addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people,” not the governor’s office.
In fact the state’s Democratic lawmakers have been trying to do just that, introducing a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights to most people upon completion of their sentence, but Republicans have blocked it.
It’s increasingly hard to understand why. Banning people with criminal records from voting, even after they have served their sentence, is a pointless and counterproductive punishment that serves no purpose other than to keep more than six million people (and a hugely disproportionate number of African-Americans) from participating fully in American society. It is one of the many areas of criminal-justice reform that Republicans and Democrats around the country have agreed on.