Beshear restores voting rights to 140,000 Kentuckians

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) -- Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order Thursday restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons in Kentucky who have completed their sentences.

During his remarks in the Capitol Rotunda announcing the restoration of voting rights, Beshear said he believes in the law, as well as redemption and second chances. “And as I said in my inaugural speech on Tuesday, my faith teaches me forgiveness. We all make mistakes, we all sin and need forgiveness from our families, our friends, and our Creator.”

The governor said his executive order would affect more than 140,000 people.

“We’re talking about moms and dads, neighbors and friends, people who have taken on and met one of the greatest challenges that any of us could face, overcoming the past, becoming contributing members of society here in Kentucky.”

Beshear noted the state has the third-highest voter disenfranchise rate in the nation: nearly one in 10 Kentuckians and nearly one in four African Americans. “Kentucky is one of only two states with lifetime disenfranchisement, until today.”

Beshear said he supports a constitutional amendment to enshrine the automatic restoration of voting rights.

Former Supreme Court Justice Mary Noble, who now serves as Beshear’s Justice Cabinet Secretary, stated, “Every citizen who has paid their debt has earned the right to return to full citizenship. To withhold that is simply wrong. The Justice and Public Safety Cabinet embraces the executive order and looks forward to assisting those who qualify with the restoration of their civil rights.”

Rynn Young of Louisville said he was just three months past his 18th birthday when he made his mistake. “21 years later, I am still being judged by my mistakes as a child. Today, a day that I thought I’d never see, an early Christmas gift from Gov. Beshear, who gave me back my equality as an American.”

Amanda Bourland, 44, of Louisville,  said she also was 18 when she committed a crime that cost her the right to vote. “I have tried and tried to be heard at the polls and have been told no. I was told 13 years ago that if I kept doing the next right thing, the next right thing would happen.”

Turning to Beshear, she continued, “Thank you so much for making the next right thing happen because now my voice matters.”

After the announcement, Beshear told reporters his administration is working on implementing the process. “The next step is to provide the verification to those election officials who register people. Our job is to make that seamless. To make sure that anyone can walk into any of the election officials’ offices and be able to register, right then, right there. Now, that’s going to take a little time, and we ask people to bear with us. We’re going to get it done as quickly as we can and long before the next election.”

Reacting to Beshear’s announcement, House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said, “We are now reviewing the specific details of this executive order. Initially, we have concerns about the use of an executive order to effectively amend our state constitution. Regardless of which side you are on - and it is important to note that a version of this has already passed the House with support from members of both parties - ultimately only the Kentucky voter has the authority to amend our constitution.”

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