Mitch McConnell’s reelection race in 2020 may seem a long way off. But if Gov. Matt Bevin doesn’t survive his race, it might be the first step in sending off McConnell, through the re-enfranchisement of thousands of Kentuckians.
Many seem to be unaware that next Tuesday’s election is happening at all. Turnout has been estimated to be an abysmally low 31% of registered voters. Yet there are six important Kentucky races on the ballot. At the top of the ticket is Democrat Andy Beshear’s challenge of Bevin. Five other races are up: Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, and Commissioner of Agriculture. Despite all this, turnout will be barely half as much as 2016’s Presidential election.
The winner of next week’s election will have a major influence in 2020—by letting more citizens vote. Approximately 4% of the adult population of Kentucky—1 out of every 25—has lost the vote because they were once convicted of a crime. This extreme penalty falls hardest on African Americans, 26% of whom have lost the right to vote—more than 1 of 4.
The governor has the sole right to reinstate voting rights. Matt Bevin stopped this practice, and Andy Beshear has promised to bring it back. Advocates for law and order may criticize what they perceive as leniency. But the idea of giving people a second chance has bipartisan support. Consider swing-state Florida: last year, it elected a Republican governor and U.S. senator, but by a supermajority it restored of voting rights for more than 1 million people.
McConnell is the least popular senator in the nation, with an approval rating of just 34 percent. Although he will surely do better than this in 2020, the race could be competitive. A Governor Beshear, by re-enfranchising thousands of voters, could play a deciding role. We don’t know exactly how these new voters would behave, however given that they are disproportionately non-white it is likely these voters would be Democratic-leaning.
This means that Democrats focused on “ditching Mitch,” may be missing their best opportunity. This summer, Amy McGrath, McConnell’s most prominent Democratic challenger in 2020, raised nearly $11 million for her campaign. But Beshear, in the same time frame, raised less than $3 million. Considering Beshear’s potential power, he is a savvier investment.
Our obsession with national politics too often makes us blind to the importance of statewide and local elections. Not just criminal justice reform, but education and health care come under the jurisdiction of state government. Any citizen interested in Kentucky’s future should start by voting, and by getting out the vote in 2019. By voting for (or against) a candidate who can return tens of thousands of voters to the rolls, a single vote cast now carries tremendous power. A vote next Tuesday is a leveraged investment in Kentucky’s future.
Zachariah Sippy is from Lexington. He is a sophomore at Princeton University and an analyst at the Princeton Election Consortium.