The governor of Kentucky signed an executive order this week that restores the voting rights to all felons, according to a press release from the Kentucky government. The new measures will not apply to those who have been convicted of violent or sex crimes, bribery or treason but will grant the right to vote and to hold public office to certain offenders once the terms of their sentences have been completed.
Lifting the ban means that at least 100,000 nonviolent felons now have the opportunity to vote, according to The New York Times. Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat who is leaving office next month, signed the order as one of his final acts as governor. Beshear noted that withholding voting and office rights from ex-felons who have served their sentences is unfair, stating in a press conference that to do so "dilutes the energy of democracy, which functions only if all classes and categories of people have a voice."
The move has already been praised by members of the community, with delivery driver Mantell Stevens from Lexington telling The Courier Journal that "to be able to have that power - to be able to vote - it's tremendous." It has also garnered bipartisan support, with the Brennan Center for Justice reporting that more than 70 percent of the 46 Republicans in Kentucky's House this session voted in support of the bill.
Less impressed with Beshear's methods is Republican State Rep. Jeff Hoover, the State House minority leader. "Once again this governor has chosen to usurp the authority of the Kentucky General Assembly through executive order," Hoover said in a news release, questioning the legality of the order and claiming that voting rights can change only through amending the state constitution.
Kentucky has had one of the highest rates of voter disenfranchisement in the country, with more than 22 percent of African-Americans left out at the polls, according to The Courier Journal. Along with Iowa and Florida, it was one of only three states that had a lifetime ban on felon voting rights.