America is the land of second chances. I believe that non-violent felony offenders who have paid their debt to society, stayed out of trouble as required by the law, and have shown that they are indeed trying to get back on track, deserve reinstatement of their voting rights — as well as other civil rights.
These newly restored citizens deserve the certainty that they will have the right to vote for their representatives, and that their vote will not be undermined by an executive order circumventing the elected state legislature and the voice of the people at the ballot box.
However, while I agree that we ought to create a process for automatic restoration of rights for certain offenders, I do not support abusing the privilege of executive orders to circumvent the legislative process when it calls for placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Section 145 of our Constitution provides that felons may not vote unless their civil rights have been restored by a pardon from the governor. Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order, issued less than two weeks prior to the expiration of his eight years in office, effectively changed this provision by establishing a mechanism that, going forward, would have resulted in automatic restorations of rights.
Beshear was not at liberty to make such unilateral change. If there is to be a legal system for automatically restoring rights, it has to be established by a duly enacted constitutional amendment approved by voters.
Moreover, Beshear’s order was constitutionally questionable because it purported to restore civil rights, yet expressly stated that it was not a pardon.
I agree with Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat and a supporter of restoring felon-voting rights, who said that the legislature needs to address the issue and remove it from the “whims of the governor.”
To ensure the best chance of success, the General Assembly must vote to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that restores civil rights and provides certainty to those looking forward to reengaging in their communities.
In the meantime, my office has already requested the paperwork for the 56 people who were eligible for restoration under Executive Order 2015-871 in order to help them continue the process toward regaining their civil rights.
We will continue to utilize the processes and procedures under current law pending consideration by the Kentucky General Assembly and a vote of the people, and look forward to working on a bipartisan basis to ensure that a thoughtful solution can be reached in a timely manner.
At issue: Dec. 30 Herald-Leader editorial, “Bevin must fight for voting rights”