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KY Ex-Cons Want Ballot Box Rights

December 30, 2011

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Voting rights advocates say it's time to turn the tide for most of the 186,000 Kentuckians who are being denied a voice at the ballot box because they're former felons who were convicted of nonviolent offenses.

The social justice group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is one of nearly two dozen organizations backing a bill that calls for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights automatically to nonviolent felony ex-offenders.

One person who would be affected by such an amendment is April Browning, Lexington, who served 15 months for drug possession four years ago.

"My time is served. My debt to society has been paid, and it's only fair to let us become a full part of the community once again."

Kentucky is one of a few states that denies voting rights to former felons after they have successfully completed parole, probation or time served, unless they get a gubernatorial pardon.

State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw (D-Lexington) is sponsoring the bill (HB 70) that would let voters decide in November whether the voting rights should be automatically restored. In Browning's opinion, automatic voting rights restoration is critical a part of a person's successful reentry into society after being incarcerated, as connecting them to democracy is a tool of rehabilitation.

"When people are allowed to reintegrate into society as full citizens, they're more likely to obey the laws and be able to feel as though they have a voice and it's being heard."

The measure would not apply to former felons convicted of intentional murder, rape, sodomy or sex crimes against a minor.

Similar attempts by Crenshaw in the last three legislative sessions passed the Democrat-controlled House by wide victories, but stalled in the Republican-run Senate. Opponents have said the constitutional amendment is unnecessary, because the gubernatorial pardon process is already in place for felons who wish to have their voting rights restored.

Renee Shaw, Public News Service - KY