Kentucky could be heading for a historic change this year as it moves closer to abolishing its law banning felons from voting, thanks to a bipartisan effort in the state Capitol and a big assist from Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The state has long had among the most restrictive felon voting rules, thus disenfranchising a high percentage of its voting-age population. Black residents have been disproportionately affected — more than one in five of voting age cannot cast a ballot. A long-running push by voting rights advocates to end these restrictions got a boost from Paul, who this week pushed a compromise in testimony before state lawmakers. Republicans in the legislature, who control the Senate, for the first time agreed to ease the ban. “It has the best chance it’s ever had,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer. Even as advocates for expanded voting rights anticipate a victory in Kentucky, they have a long road ahead in the many other states that continue to bar felons from casting ballots, disenfranchising millions. The years of effort and the convergence of political forces that could lead Kentucky to change its law show how difficult the challenges can be.
This year, a handful of states are considering proposals to facilitate voting for felons, according to Wendy Underhill at the National Conference of State Legislatures, continuing a trend that began in the 1990s. That’s when states started to rethink disenfranchisement laws, spurring fierce debates about elections, criminal justice and racial politics.
Nearly two dozen states have since eased their laws; Delaware was the latest last year. The state removed a five-year waiting period after release before felons could vote and allowed most to regain their voting rights once their sentences are complete. Besides Kentucky, the issue has also gained particular attention this year in Florida and Iowa.
Full Article: Voting rights for felons on the table in several states.