Imagine if two-thirds of people living in Lexington just disappeared. Their houses sat empty, their jobs unfilled and taxes unpaid. When it comes to our country’s most basic democratic right — voting — that is what’s happening today. Nearly 200,000 Kentuckians living and working in our communities cannot vote because of antiquated laws excluding them from our democracy. When someone is convicted of a felony, they can never vote again unless the governor individually allows them to do so. It does not matter how long ago the crime was, how old the person was when he did it or how long he has been living productively among friends and neighbors. This year, the legislature, and every citizen, had a chance to change that, but it looks as if the Kentucky Senate is squandering that opportunity. The legislature is considering House Bill 70, which would allow voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights for people with criminal convictions who have fully completed their sentences.
The Senate’s State and Local Government Committee held a hearing Wednesday and passed, instead of HB 70, a substitute so inadequate that it is not worth the House’s time. Within hours, Senate leaders brought the bill to the floor and passed it. The measure now heads back to the House.
The substitute bill would dilute HB 70 in three key ways: First, by barring people with certain offenses from restoring their voting rights. Second, even more importantly, by also excluding people with multiple prior felonies from voting. And third, by barring people from getting their rights restored if they committed a misdemeanor within five years of completing their sentence.