The League of Women Voters reports that more than 300,000 Kentuckians are barred from voting due to a felony conviction. That’s a 68 percent increase since 2006.
Kentucky has the third highest disenfranchisement rate in the country. One of every 11 residents is disenfranchised, a rate more than triple the national average.
The state also has the highest African American disenfranchisement rate in the country, with one of every four (26.2 percent) African American adults barred from voting. This is a direct result of the state’s grossly disproportionate incarceration rate, the League reports. African Americans make up less than 8 percent of the state’s population but comprise 21 percent of the prison population. The incarceration rate for black Kentuckians is more than triple the rate for whites.
Kentucky permanently disenfranchises people with felony convictions, denying them the right to vote even after they have completed their full sentences. Currently, 78 percent of people ineligible to vote in Kentucky because of felony convictions have completed their sentences.
Under the Kentucky Constitution, voting rights can be restored only by receiving an executive pardon from the governor. In November 2015, outgoing Governor Steve Beshear, who restored voting rights to more than 9500 people during his tenure, issued an executive order to automatically restore voting rights to people with non-violent felony convictions who had completed their sentences.
Despite overwhelming public support for restoring voting rights to citizens who have completed their sentences, the new governor, Matt Bevin, rescinded the order immediately upon taking office and has denied every restoration application during his first year in office.
Observing that the restoration of voting rights promotes rehabilitation and reintegration into the community, the League of Women Voters’s co-presidents recommend including voting rights restoration in pending legislation designed to help formerly incarcerated people re-enter society.
Kentucky is part of a larger trend of rising disenfranchisement. Across the country, the number of disenfranchised Americans has increased dramatically from an estimated 1.17 million in 1976 to 6.1 million in 2016.