More than 183,000 Kentuckians have had their voting rights restored since an executive order was signed by Governor Andy Beshear in December of 2019. Executive orders are not permanent, and could be reversed by a future governor.
Beshear’s order restored voting rights to Kentucky residents with non-violent and non-sexual felony offenses. It also allows those same people to hold public office. However, no permanent change has been made to solidify this restoration of civil rights into the Kentucky constitution. Once someone’s voting rights are restored, even under executive order, those rights cannot be taken away if the order is reversed by a new administration. Beshear said he’s proud of the executive order, especially after seeing what a difference it can make in someone’s life.
“You can almost see dignity cloaked around that person. It is hard to describe but it’s really moving,” he said.
Beshear said he’s heard the criticism of his order and how it doesn’t go far enough, but he believes some crimes are so heinous that those who commit them shouldn’t get their voting rights restored. The governor said he’s been influenced by his time as attorney general and the victims he’s spoken with.
Not everyone agrees with the governor’s reasoning for preventing people who have served their time from voting or holding public office.
“If the purpose of incarceration is to punish and rehabilitate, and we have this data showing people are less likely to offend if they have their rights restored, to me it seems like a no-brainer,” Marcus Jackson said.
Jackson is the Smart Justice organizing coordinator for the ACLU of Kentucky and has been working to get formerly disenfranchised people registered to vote. It’s a right he personally doesn’t have due to a previous felony conviction. In January he’ll finally join the ranks of those who can participate in the democratic process again. Jackson said people who have their civil rights restored are less likely to reoffend, which is why he thinks everyone who has served their time should have their rights restored.
“If you look at the executive order, the crimes that are prohibited from voting are supposed to be the worst offenders,” he said. “If I really wanted rehabilitation and safe communities, wouldn’t that be the group of people that I would invest in the most?”
Jackson said Beshear’s executive order was a good first step, but isn’t enough. One of the ACLU’s priorities for the 2022 legislative session will be working to solidify the restoration of civil rights in the state’s constitution.