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Rights Restoration Has Strong Bipartisan Support in Kentucky

Thousands of Kentuckians can now reclaim their voting rights thanks to an executive order by the governor — and his action builds upon strong bipartisan support for rights restoration.

  • Tomas Lopez
Published: November 24, 2015

This morning, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order that will make it possible for certain Kentucky citizens with past criminal convictions to get back their right to vote. The announcement is an incredible breakthrough in the movement to end criminal disenfranchisement policies nationwide.

While Gov. Beshear is a Democrat, there is a record of strong bipartisan support for rights restoration in Kentucky. Just this past session, 33 Republicans — representing over 70 percent of the 46 Republicans in Kentucky’s House at the time — voted in support of HB 70, a bill to amend Kentucky’s constitution to restore voting rights to people completing sentences for most felony convictions. Here’s the vote count from the Kentucky House in 2015:

86 yeas / 12 nays / 2 not voting
YEAS: 33 Republicans, 53 Democrats
NAYS: 12 Republicans, 0 Democrats
Not voting: 1 Republicans, 1 Democrats
Composition of Chamber: 46 Republicans, 54 Democrats

This bipartisan support was not a one-time showing. In 2014, 34 Republicans — representing over 80 percent of the 41 Republican Representatives at the time — voted for an identical bill, also called HB 70. Had this bill passed Kentucky’s Senate, it would have put rights restoration before Kentucky’s voters for a referendum vote, allowing them their first opportunity to decide upon rights restoration. Here’s the vote count from 2014 (the document also includes a Senate vote on a weakened version of the bill):

82 yeas / 12 nays / 6 not voting
YEAS: 34 Republicans, 48 Democrats
NAYS: 12 Republicans, 0 Democrats
Not voting: 1 Republicans, 5 Democrats
Composition of Chamber: 45 Republicans, 55 Democrats

In his remarks, Gov. Beshear noted that his executive order was only a partial solution because lifetime disenfranchisement is written into Kentucky’s constitution. The full answer comes through legislation — which has been supported in the past by prominent Kentucky Republicans like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and Kentucky House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, who called rights restoration “a matter of fairness.” And just this fall, Kentucky’s next governor, Matt Bevin, affirmed his support for a legislative solution.

Today’s order was a critical step, but the full answer will come through amending Kentucky’s constitution. That will need Republican support, just as it’s had in recent years.