Lexington's Urban County Council voted unanimously on Thursday to support House Bill 70 and to ask the General Assembly to put the issue before Kentucky voters as a constitutional amendment. The bill would restore voting rights to ex-felons.
After the vote, council member Chris Ford called it an issue of social justice. "Giving the people the vote creates a stronger democracy," Ford said, adding that being able to vote "empowers the civic voice of disenfranchised individuals."
Ford and council member Shevawn Akers sponsored the resolution.
The Rev. Anthony Everett from the Nia Community of Faith Church told council, "Voting restores people who have paid their debt to society ... The right to vote is a fundamental human right and democratic principle."
More than 10,000 blacks in Lexington cannot vote because of felony convictions, Everett said. He said they pay taxes that support government, but "when it comes to the vote, their voices are silenced."
The Rev. Jim Thurman, president of the Lexington chapter of the NAACP, said earlier, "Sadly, many of these felony convictions are for non-violent crimes like not paying child support."
House Bill 70 is sponsored by State Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington. Crenshaw has introduced the bill for the past seven years, Ford said. Each time, the bill passed the House with bipartisan support. But it has never gotten a hearing in the Senate, he said.
House Bill 70 passed the House two weeks ago by a vote of 75-25. "At least this year it has been assigned to the State and Local Government Committee for a hearing," Ford said.
Since Lexington is the second-largest metropolitan area in the state, Ford said he hopes the council's support will help persuade Senate leaders to let the bill go to the floor for a vote.
On March 6, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth plans a rally at the Capitol for the restoration of voting rights.