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Push to Restore Voting Rights in Kentucky

PHOTO:  A bill to restore voting rights to ex-convicts is before the Kentucky Senate for a sixth straight year.
PHOTO: A bill to restore voting rights to ex-convicts is before the Kentucky Senate for a sixth straight year.
March 5, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Convicted felons in Kentucky are not guaranteed to get their voting rights back once they've come off parole or probation.

A bill (HB70) proposing a constitutional amendment to restore that right to most ex-felons is now before the state Senate. It's an idea the House has approved six straight years, but the bill has always died in the Senate.

According to former felon Damon Horton, that's keeping more than a quarter-million Kentuckians from having the chance to vote.

"It's unacceptable. People pay their debt to society, and to take their voice away from them for the rest of their lives is absurd," Horton asserted. "It doesn't make any sense."

Horton spent two and a half years behind bars on a felony drug conviction. He got out of prison in 2006 and is now an ordained minister in Lexington.

Last August, Horton petitioned the state governor to have his voting rights restored. The request was granted in January. Horton said he was "ecstatic."

"It's like I was given my voice back again, you know," he said. "I've been given a second chance now."

Horton is active with the Voting Rights Coalition, which will spend Wednesday (March 6) at the Capitol lobbying senators.

The voting rights bill passed the House 75-25 last month. It is now before the Senate's State and Local Government Committee. Horton hopes lawmakers will give former felons back their "voice" in government.

"My church family has forgiven me and accepted me who I am and feel in my heart that God has forgiven me, but society still looks at paper," he said.

If the bill is approved, the question of whether to restore voting rights for most ex-felons would go on the November ballot for voters to decide.

The proposed voting rights restoration would not apply in cases of conviction for treason, intentional killing, a sex crime, or bribery.

A link to HB70 is at lrc.ky.gov.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY