KY legislators formulating bipartisan bill to restore felon voting rights

KY legislators formulating bipartisan bill to restore felon voting rights
A man votes in a Kentucky voting booth. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - After a ballot initiative to restore voting rights for felons passed in Florida early this month, Kentucky became one of just two states left that doesn’t allow those with a felony record to vote.

Legislators and community activists are trying to change that.

Shelton McElroy has pushed for political change before—affordable housing and public health among the topics he's tackled, but on Election Day McElroy didn't vote, but not because he didn't want to.

"It's demoralizing,” McElroy said. “It's humiliating."

As a felon in Kentucky, McElroy lost his right to vote.

"At 18 years old, I made an impulsive decision to sell marijuana, was held accountable for that, did my time," McElroy said.

Time he adds should have restored his rights.

“We should always be able to vote,” McElroy said. “We should always encourage more democracy, instead of move into a place of less democracy."

McElroy said family leaders who cannot vote cannot set a good civic example for their children.

"Entire families are disenfranchised when you disenfranchise the head of a household,” McElroy said.

Some in Frankfort agree.

State Senator Morgan McGarvey, (D) Louisville, said he's part of a bipartisan effort to restore voting rights to felons, once they complete requirements like parole and probation.

“There’s a constitutional lifetime ban on you being able to have a voice in your community,” McGarvey said. “We think that’s wrong.”

McGarvey said those who commit rape and murder would most likely not get those voting rights back under the proposal legislators from across the aisle are currently working on for the upcoming January session.

Still, it's an idea that doesn't sit well with Katherine Nichols, whose brother Jim Duckett was murdered ten years ago in Shelbyville.

"I was the one that found my brother,” Nichols said. “This is why I do this. Before then, I was a soccer mom."

Nichols currently heads the crime victims advocacy group Kentuckians' Voice for Crime Victims.

Nichols said that, even if the law just gave rights to non-violent offenders, she’s concerned some who fall under that category may have pled down from more violent offenses.

For example, she said what could qualify as murder has been pled down to reckless homicide before.

"You took someone's life,” Nichols said. “You took their voting rights. You took everything from them. So, you have not paid your dues."

Nichols said the effort is purely politics.

“Just once, I'd like to see a politician do something for people,” Nichols added.

Nichols said, even crimes outside of murder, have victims.

So, still, those dues may not be paid, while others argue some of those laws- like ones related to marijuana- are already beginning to change.

McGarvey said the law would require a constitutional amendment.

So, if passed by the legislature, it would have to be voted in by the public in an election.

Voting rights activist Shelton McElroy said this isn't the first time voting rights for felons have been brought up in Kentucky.

He said one of the last actions of Governor Beshear was to restore them, while one of the first orders made by Governor Bevin was to strike that down.

McElroy said Bevin said he would revisit the subject when he repealed felon voting rights, but has yet to do so.

According to Kentucky Constitution, outside of new legislation, the governor does have the ability to issue executive pardons to restore voting rights.

A Rand Paul staffer noted that the U.S. Senator has been a supporter of restoring felon voting rights, adding Paul has testified in front of the Kentucky Legislature in support of it.

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