, Corbin, KY

State News

October 23, 2013

Not much movement on felon voting rights

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

There was an air of anticipation preceding Tuesday’s meeting of the Joint Interim Committee on State Government which was to discuss restoring felon’s voting rights and the need for requiring photo identification for voting in Kentucky.

But when the meeting was over, it didn’t feel like many minds had changed from whatever point of view with which they began.

The Democratic-controlled House has several times passed legislation which would automatically restore voting rights for felons convicted of non-violent or non-sexual crimes but the legislation never got anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But advocates have gotten their hopes up of late since Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has expressed support for the idea, albeit with a mandatory waiting period. Presently, under the Kentucky Constitution, felons must apply to the governor to have rights restored, including voting rights.

Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, has pre-filed a bill identical to one supported in the past by Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington. But after a presentation by Myrna Perez, Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, Republicans on the committee didn’t seem persuaded.

Perez said Kentucky is one of three states that permanently prohibit voting for felons unless the governor approves a partial pardon while 39 states automatically restore their voting rights after they’ve served their sentence and completed any probation period, after they’ve “paid their debt to society.” Two, Maine and Vermont, allow incarcerated prisoners to vote.

As with the rest of the nation, African Americans represent a disproportionate percentage of felons without voting rights in Kentucky. One in five African Americans in Kentucky is barred from voting because of a felony conviction.

Perez said multiple studies have shown restoring voting rights actually reduces recidivism rates while a Bluegrass Poll indicates that 51 percent of Kentuckians would support a constitutional amendment to restore those rights when sentences are complete and 38 percent oppose the idea.

Tanya Fogle, a former felon, exhorted the committee to support Neal’s legislation.

“I made a mistake, but I’m not a mistake and I can add to this community,” Fogle said. “I love you because I know you’re going to do the right thing. Do the right thing! Do the right thing!”

That presentation was followed by one from Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation who wants Kentucky to require voter identification to vote. Present Kentucky law allows but does not require precinct officers to ask for photo identification but it does not have to be a government-issued photo I.D. and is seldom invoked.

Many critics of such laws – generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats – say they are designed to suppress the minority and poor vote.

But von Spakovsky cited numerous statistics from states which have passed such laws indicating minority voting percentages actually increased after passage of the laws. However, in most instances the increase minority vote percentages he cited occurred in 2008 when Barack Obama was the first African American nominee of one of the two major parties.

To counter that question, von Spakovsky cited similar increases in 2010 when Republicans rode a wave election into control of the U.S. House of Representatives. He cited multiple court cases which have upheld such laws.

He also pointed out how commonly photo identification is to board airplanes or to enter secure buildings.

Von Spakovsky was joined by James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk and Elections Committee Chair for the Kentucky County Clerk Association. But in response to Democratic members’ questions, Lewis said vote hauling – the practice of paying workers to transport voters to the polls – was a bigger source of vote fraud in Kentucky than unqualified, unregistered voters posing as someone else.

As for that sort of voter fraud, Lewis said, “I do not recall such a case in 20 years, well since 1988.”

Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he sees it as a problem, noting he’d supported voter photo identification legislation in the past and said he sees the two pieces of legislation on restoration of voting rights and photo identification as “inextricably linked.”

In addition to bring calls of “No!” from the crowd which was there largely in support of restoring felons voting rights, the statement from the Senate Majority Floor Leader may have indicated what the likely position of the Republican Senate – regardless of the calls for change by Paul.

Paul is mulling a run for president in 2016 and has been actively engaged in outreach efforts to African American groups in an effort to broaden his appeal.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

Text Only
State News
  • Committee seeks explanation of selenium reg discrepancies

    A committee of state lawmakers wants the Energy and Environment Cabinet to explain apparent inconsistencies between its position and that of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency on a new regulation governing how much selenium mining operations may release into Kentucky streams.

    April 22, 2014

  • Healthcare signup in state extended

    While the national health exchange established by the Affordable Care Act — known to some as Obamacare — suffered glitches, crashes and delays, the Kentucky-run exchange, Kynect, was often used as a national model.

    April 4, 2014

  • Kentucky budget passed with little debate

    The Kentucky General Assembly, divided between chambers along party lines, overwhelmingly passed a $20-billion, new two-year budget not only on time but with almost no debate.

    April 1, 2014

  • Lawmakers agree on snow bill

    Kentucky school officials, parents and students finally have what they’ve been asking for: A bill to allow them to get out of school before the summer fully sets in, even if they don’t make up some of the days they missed during the severe winter.

    March 31, 2014

  • Tensions rise during budget negotiations

    Tensions increased Friday between the Republican Senate and Democratic House over continuing negotiations on a new, two-year budget. It even got personal at times.

    March 31, 2014

  • Kentucky Power plan a potential landscape-changer

    Electrical ratepayers, local governments and those employed in the coal industry might have a hard time understanding the complicated transaction through which Kentucky Power Company is purchasing half the generating capacity of a coal-fired West Virginia plant.

    March 28, 2014 2 Stories

  • Senate passes budget with no locked-in gas tax hikes

    The state Senate on Tuesday passed its version of a two-year revenue measure, and unlike the House version, it does not lock in gas tax increases.

    March 26, 2014

  • House passes bill aimed at saving Big Sandy Plant

    Backers of a bill to require the Kentucky Public Service Commission to “reconsider” its previous order approving Kentucky Power’s purchase of a West Virginia generator say all they are asking “is for them to take a second look and look at all the facts.”

    March 26, 2014 1 Story

  • Judge: Companies can’t use eminent domain for pipeline project

    Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd on Tuesday ruled that companies building a natural gas liquids pipeline across parts of Kentucky cannot invoke eminent domain to force private property owners to provide easements.

    March 26, 2014

  • Still no snow day solution from lawmakers

    Senate and House negotiators, working on a bill to give school districts flexibility in making up snow days, each accused the other of moving the goal posts – but it’s the local school districts who may be penalized.

    March 25, 2014