KEY POINTS

  • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear plans to issue order restoring voting rights to 100,000 former felons
  • Iowa will now be the only state to have life-long voting bans for all felons
  • Over 6 million Americans are not allowed to vote due to criminal convictions

During his inaugural address, Kentucky’s new governor, Democrat Andy Beshear, pledged to restore voting rights to over 100,000 citizens with felony records. “By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone counts in Kentucky. We all matter,” said Beshear.

This move will see through a 2015 order signed by Beshear’s father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, which aimed to permit former felons in Kentucky to vote. Before the order was implemented, however, Beshear’s successor, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, chose to nullify it.

Once this move goes into effect, Iowa will become the only state in the country with a lifetime voting ban for all convicted felons.

Beshear explained in his address how his religious beliefs “teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect” and that “my faith also teaches me forgiveness.” The governor said that those “who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now – they deserve to participate in our great democracy.”

Voting privileges will be restored for Kentucky citizens convicted of felonies once they have completed their sentences and paid all court-ordered fees. Those still serving their sentences will remain barred from voting.

In Kentucky and elsewhere, some Republicans have warned against restoring voting rights to former convicts. They are concerned that Democrats doing so could be seen as essentially buying voter support from those who previously could not participate in elections and ballot polling. Critics of convict disenfranchisement, however, point to the fact that these laws disproportionately affect black Americans.

While Kentucky moves away from felon voter disenfranchisement, two states – Maine and Vermont – allow any individual to vote while still serving their sentence. In Alabama, Alaska and Mississippi, those behind bars can vote, but this is dependent on the severity of their criminal convictions. Those with convictions for certain felonies, however, face a lifetime voting ban in Alabama and Mississippi.

Over six million Americans around the country are unable to vote due to criminal convictions.

Democratic presidential nominee candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is the only one in the running to state his desire to re-enfranchise citizens with criminal records nationwide.

Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear claimed victory over Republican Matt Bevin, who was backed by US President Donald Trump Kentucky Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear claimed victory over Republican Matt Bevin, who was backed by US President Donald Trump Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / John Sommers II