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Voting Rights Issue at Familiar Crossroads in Kentucky Legislature

Photo: It still takes a pardon from the governor for nearly a quarter of a million former felons, including Mike Hiser (at podium), to get their right to vote back. Hiser is participating in a rally at the state Capitol on Thursday in support of a bill calling for a public vote on the automatic restoration of voting rights. Photo courtesy of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
Photo: It still takes a pardon from the governor for nearly a quarter of a million former felons, including Mike Hiser (at podium), to get their right to vote back. Hiser is participating in a rally at the state Capitol on Thursday in support of a bill calling for a public vote on the automatic restoration of voting rights. Photo courtesy of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.
February 26, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Convicted of multiple nonviolent felonies, Mike Hiser spent four years in prison. Released in 2007, he says he's paid restitution and is off parole. Hiser says it's "un-American" that Kentucky does not automatically restore the voting rights of former felons like him.

"For us to say we live in a democracy but then to deny 250,000 people the right to vote, well, that's not democratic," says Hiser.

The House passed legislation two weeks ago, on an 86-to-12 vote, to allow Kentuckians to decide the issue. It was the ninth such vote in the last eight years.

Hiser is among those rallying today at the state Capitol hoping to convince the Senate the time has come to go along with the House. Last year the Senate did pass a bill, but made changes including adding a five-year waiting period. The House refused to accept that change, a decision Hiser agreed with.

"We don't need to reinvent the wheel," he says. "Parole already makes you wait and if you mess up on parole they lock you back up."

This year the House rejected an amendment during its own floor debate that would have added a three-year waiting period. The House bill would not give former felons who committed intentional murder or sex crimes automatic restoration of their right to vote.

Kentucky is one of four states that permanently denies the right to vote for everyone convicted of a felony, unless they receive a pardon from the governor. Hiser says he began that complicated process in 2012, but stopped, viewing it as unfair.

"Filling that thing out and asking for a right back is double jeopardy," he says.

The Voting Rights Rally today, organized by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, begins at 1 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY