Op-Ed

Mom’s not seeking pity for her son, just his right to vote back

Do you have a relative or acquaintance who is a felon? Does a member of your family suffer from a mental disorder? My son is bipolar.

Do not pity him. He has learned to deal with it. At age 32, he has a family, a home and a job. He pays all kinds of taxes — income, property, license, etc. And he is unable to vote in elections for the rest of his life. We want your help, not your pity.

Nine years ago while unable to afford his medication and therefore medically non-compliant, he committed a felony. He did not serve time in prison, but received five years probation. The probation was waived after two-and-a-half years because he complied with all requests, paid his fee every month and met with his probation officer. Still he is unable to vote for the rest of his life.

Two states, Maine and Vermont, never take away the civil right to vote, even while incarcerated. Three states, Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, never give it back to felons without a person-specific pardon from the governor. In the last 20 years, 39 states have mandated restoration of voting rights upon completion of sentence and probation. The remaining states, except the three mentioned, eventually restore voting rights to felons after they have met additional requirements.

Restoring voting rights contributes to crime prevention. Former felons who vote in the other 47 states are half as likely to commit future crimes because they feel part of a community. Kentucky ranks third in the rate of disenfranchisement overall and first in disenfranchisement of African-Americans.

Under Kentucky’s outdated constitution, nearly 312,000 Kentuckians have lost the civil right to vote.

In 2015, outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order to automatically restore the right to vote to 140,000 felons who had completed their sentences. Kentucky was about to join the rest of the United States. in reducing its number of disenfranchised citizens. The order was reversed by incoming Gov. Matt Bevin, who wanted the change to go through the legislature.

After some research, I discovered that a large coalition, which includes Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the American Civil Liberties Union, has been fighting for restoration of voting rights to felons for the last 10 years. That will require an amendment to Section 145 of the Kentucky constitution. Every year from 2010 to 2016, the House, by large bipartisan margins, approved putting such an amendment to voters, but Senate leaders stopped the bill dead in its tracks each time.

In 2017, after Republicans took control of the House as well as the Senate, the amendment failed to receive a hearing in either chamber.

My son and other disenfranchised former felons want to participate in the democratic process once again. How can you help? You have the right to vote. Exercise your right to elect lawmakers who will support civil rights for Kentuckians who have paid their debts to society.

Georgia Ringo lives in Lexington.

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