Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

January 9, 2013

Restore voting rights if felons have completed sentences

ASHLAND — State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, has prefiled a bill for consideration by the 2013 General Assembly that would automatically restore the voting rights of most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences and probation. It is a sensible idea that already exists in 46 states, but has been repeatedly rejected by the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Here’s hoping the pattern of broad bipartisan approval by the House of Representatives and no action by the Senate will end in 2013 and Kentucky will finally join 46 other states in assuring individuals are not denied the right to vote for the rest of their lives for relatively minor felonies they may have committed as teenagers.

Crenshaw’s bill, prefiled as Basic Resolution 166, proposes to amend Section 145 of the Constitution of Kentucky 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 bill would require a vote of the people to become law.

Currently, it requires a pardon by the governor to have their voting rights restored, but that should not be necessary. Once an individual has fully served his or her sentence and parole, his or her right to vote should be automatically restored. That’s the way it is in most states, but Kentucky requires action by the governor to restore voting rights, and once a politician is involved in the process, there is always the chance the governor will base the decision on whether to allow the felon to vote on his or her political views. That would be wrong, of course, but stranger things have happened in Kentucky.

Crenshaw filed a nearly identical bill during the 2012 General Assembly and it was approved by the House by a lopsided 78-18 vote, only to languish without a vote in the Senate. That’s been the pattern during all recent sessions of the General Assembly, and one hopes the replacement of former Senate President David Williams by Robert Stivers will get this bill moving in the Senate.

We realize few politicians are willing to stick their political necks out in support of convicted felons, but it is wrong for a person who has not been charged with new crimes to continue to not be able to vote because of something he or she did long ago. We believe in redemption. If a person is leading a law-abiding life, he or she should be given the right to vote. It’s as simple as that.

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