Tina Bryson’s op-ed, “Denying felons voting rights is not justice,” is accurate and touching, but she doesn’t go far enough.
In Maine and Vermont, felons retain their voting rights even while incarcerated. Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia automatically restore rights upon release. In 21 other states, ex-felons automatically regain their rights after a period of time, usually probation or parole.
In only 13 states is another requirement specified, such as governor’s approval. Kentucky is one of the 13 states insisting on additional obstacles to regaining rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
In this state, the process is difficult and arbitrary. Each applicant must complete a detailed, and for many ex-felons, difficult application form. Only when it correctly contains all specified information, can this application be forwarded to the governor for an executive order to restore the individual’s rights.
There is no requirement for the governor to sign any application. And there is no requirement for him to sign in a timely manner. The result: our current governor has, as of March, 2018, signed only 54 percent of the completed applications sent to him since he came into office in 2015.
Furthermore, when the League of Women Voters asked for reasons applications were not signed, the governor’s general counsel wrote specifically that the governor’s office maintains no responsive record. In other words, there is no record of the governor’s reasons for not signing applications. And if he does not give his approval the applicant, like the individuals Bryson encountered, will never be able to vote.
How does this situation reflect on Kentucky? Why in Kentucky is it so difficult to regain rights after one has paid all penalties for felonies committed? Going a bit further: Why do we think that an individual ever loses the right to vote?
Judy Johnson is a board member of Lexington’s League of Women Voters.