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VA Restores Voting Rights for Ex-Felons; KY Still Waiting

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PHOTO: Virginia restores voting rights for ex-felons, but similar efforts in Kentucky have stalled again.
PHOTO: Virginia restores voting rights for ex-felons, but similar efforts in Kentucky have stalled again.
July 2, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Ex-felons in Virginia have gotten the call. Governor Bob McDonnell has expanded voting rights to nonviolent offenders who have served their time. That leaves Kentucky as one of just three states, along with Iowa and Florida, where an individual petition is the only way ex-felons can have their voting rights restored.

According to Megan Naseman, a member of Kentuckians For the Commonwealth, a citizens' group that pushes for restoration of voting rights, such restoration would lessen recidivism.

"Statistics show that when people have their right to vote back, they're less likely to be engaged in more crime," she said. "I mean, it makes sense, if you have a voice you can use that voice."

In Virginia, an estimated 100,000 ex-felons are now eligible to vote after the policy change made by the governor. The challenge will be finding and registering them, said Tram Nguyen, the associate director of the voting rights group Virginia New Majority.

"The problem is that, especially for folks that have been released and served their time years ago, it's going to be really hard to identify where they are now - if they are still in the state, if they've left the state," she cautioned.

In Kentucky, efforts failed again this year to pass legislation to automatically restore voting rights. The only way a former felon can regain that civil right remains through a cumbersome application process to the governor for an executive pardon.

Megan Naseman said that's a barrier that needs to come down.

"I've seen people go through that process," she said. "I wish it was easier, but I have seen people get their life on track and just really blossom and become pillars in the community."

In Kentucky, the governor cannot simply change the law. Instead, it would require the Legislature to put the issue to the voters in the form of a constitutional amendment, something lawmakers have refused to do.


Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY