Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) signed an executive order on Tuesday to restore voting rights to 180,000 Kentucky residents who had completed their sentences, but who were ineligible to vote because of Kentucky’s restrictive voting access laws. Beshear’s order will extend the franchise to non-violent felons who have been released from prison and who have successfully completed the terms of their parole and probation.
Beshear’s executive order will not restore voting rights to violent offenders, sex offenders or anyone convicted of bribery or treason. Kentucky was one of only three states that essentially imposed a lifetime ban on voting for anyone with a felony conviction.
Florida and Iowa are the remaining two states that enforce a Draconian lifetime prohibition on voting for nearly all convicted felons. At the opposite end of the spectrum, convicted felons in Maine and Vermont are permitted to vote even while they are serving their prison sentences.
Allowing people who have served their sentences to vote is a common sense reform that enables those individuals to reintegrate into society by engaging them in the political process. Furthermore, because the criminal justice system tends to disproportionately target poor people and people of color, restricting voting access to individuals who have felony convictions tends to replicate structural inequalities in the larger society.
While many convicted felons will decline to vote even if given the opportunity, they still should be extended the option to vote. Political decisions have an impact on convicted felons, so there is no reason those individuals should not have a voice in determining who will be making decisions on their behalf.
Beshear’s executive order is a sensible executive decision that tries to expand rather than shrink the size of the electorate. While the Republicans have spent the better part of the last decade trying to disenfranchise people, Governor Beshear has made a strong move in the opposite direction, suggesting that democracy works best when we allow people who are governed to choose who governs.