Return voting rights to ex-felons

The Kentucky House of Representatives is once again acting favorably on a proposal (HB 70) by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, to amend the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights to non-violent felons who have paid their assigned debt to society.

Remarkably, each time in recent years this measure has passed out of the House it has stopped dead in the Senate.

This is a good year to change that pattern. We are, after all, witnessing one of the great political processes as the presidential campaign unfolds before our very eyes.

There is a lot of debate these days about the role of government in our lives, but does anyone really think it should be government's task to prevent people from voting?

Kentucky is one of only a handful of states in which a felony conviction carries with it a lifetime loss of voting rights.

Under our constitution, it's up to the governor to restore that right to people who have served their time. With most governors it's fairly routine to restore rights to people who ask after they've finished their time with the Department of Corrections.

But not always.

Former Governor Ernie Fletcher, for example, required people to write an essay and get three letters of recommendation before he'd even consider restoring an individual's voting rights.

Why, you might wonder, is this even an issue? Why not put a proposed amendment on the ballot and let those of us who can vote decide?

It's really basic political math. A 2006 Kentucky League of Women Voters study found that one in four Kentucky black adults is banned from the polls by this policy. Blacks are much more likely to vote for Democratic candidates and so the Republican-controlled Senate (and the former Republican governor) are not motivated to increase their numbers at the polls.

That's just wrong. Released felons are set free to participate in society, including paying taxes, and so they should be able to participate in one of the most fundamental of our citizenship rights — voting.

It's that simple.