Kentucky’s practice of permanently stripping away the voting rights of citizens convicted of felonies may soon change, according to Attorney Ben Carter in an opinion-editorial in The Courier-Journal.
Currently three states, Florida, Kentucky and Iowa, permanently strip voting rights. Only Vermont and Maine do not strip voting rights at all. All the other states temporarily strip voting rights.
Twenty-six percent of voting-age Black Kentuckians cannot vote due to the combination of felony convictions and the state’s racially biased enforcement of drug laws.
“The War on Drugs has turned people struggling with addiction into felons all across the commonwealth,” Carter said.
In 1980, Kentucky had a voter disenfranchisement rate of 2.2 percent, which has increased to 9.1 percent today. Only Mississippi and Florida have higher rates of voter disenfranchisement.
A federal lawsuit in Florida may end that state’s extreme effort to disenfranchise former felons and provide a template for other states to follow. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued an injunction requiring Florida officials to replace the state’s unconstitutionally arbitrary system by April 26.
But, Florida’s governor appealed the judge’s decision. Florida and Kentucky’s systems of voter restoration are similar: both are at the discretion of the governor.
Walker’s decision did not tell the state exactly how to fix its broken system. However, the court required the Executive Clemency Board to “promulgate time constraints that are meaningful, specific and expeditious.”
The court cautioned the GOP-controlled board from ending the voter restoration scheme entirely. Earlier this year, the court concluded that Florida’s slow drip of vote-restorations violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights to associate and speak freely, and also violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
The lawsuit in Florida gives disenfranchised Kentuckians a map to defend against the state’s punitive and racist policy against convicted citizens who have served their time, Carter noted.
He said that the map points to a more sensible destination, one that recognizes that people convicted of felonies should be fully reintegrated into society.
“Felons today aren’t what felons used to be. Back in the good old days, you’d have to kill or seriously hurt someone, steal a bunch of stuff or try to rob someone to become a felon,” he said. “But, nowadays, stealing something worth $300 is a felony.”
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