Skip Navigation

Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Kentucky

A summary of current felony disenfranchisement policies and legislative advocacy in Kentucky.

Last Updated: August 5, 2020
Published: November 7, 2018

On December 12, 2019, Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order on his third day in office to end Kentucky’s permanent and blanket ban on voting for those with convictions in their past. Governor Beshear restored voting rights to most people with prior convictions who have completed their terms of incarceration, probation, and parole – which is estimated to be more than 100,000 citizens.

Governor Beshear’s Order restored eligibility by operation of law at the time it was signed. That means that individuals who were made eligible pursuant to the Order need not take any further steps before they can register to vote.

Recent Rights Restoration Activity in Kentucky

On November 24, 2015, then-Governor Steve Beshear issued an executive order that restored voting rights to Kentucky citizens with past convictions that were classified as non-violent and who completed their sentences and met other criteria. The order also established a process by which citizens serving sentences would have their voting rights restored upon completing their sentences, and would receive a certificate of rights restoration and a voter registration application in the mail with their discharge papers.

But, in December 2015, Governor Matt Bevin retracted Governor Steve Beshear’s policy.

Governor Bevin issued an executive order that attacked the state’s most important progress on voting rights restoration to date, and once again made Kentucky a national outlier for disenfranchising citizens with past criminal convictions.

Under Governor Bevin’s order, thousands of citizens living and working in their communities were barred from voting unless they apply to the governor and their rights were individually restored. This meant that Kentucky was one of only two states at the time (including Iowa) that permanently took away the right to vote from citizens with past criminal convictions.

The Brennan Center offered the following statement in response to Gov. Bevin’s order:

“Gov. Bevin’s order sends Kentucky backwards and again makes it one of only three states in the country that permanently disenfranchise Americans for a mistake made in their past. Because he justified his regressive action by saying rights restoration was the province of the legislature, it is incumbent upon him to achieve serious movement from those in the Senate who have blocked common sense voting rights restoration legislation for too many years.”

Bipartisan Supporters of Rights Restoration in Kentucky

A diverse coalition of law enforcement professionals, religious leaders, prominent politicians from both sides of the aisle, and civil rights groups supports restoring voting rights to Kentuckians with criminal convictions. These supporters include U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the American Probation and Parole Association, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the ACLU of Kentucky, the Kentucky Council of Churches, and the Kentucky Conference of the NAACP. Polling suggests the vast majority of Kentuckians support rights restoration. Read more about bipartisan support for rights restoration on the national level.

Past Legislative & Executive Advocacy

The Brennan Center has worked with partners in Kentucky for more than a decade to change the state’s disenfranchisement policy. Those efforts include a number of recent developments:

  • Prior to the issuance of the December 2019 and November 2015 executive orders, the Brennan Center worked alongside state-based allies to communicate the need for action to Gov. Andy Beshear, Gov. Steve Beshear, and the Kentucky legislature. 
  • In Februrary 2015, the Kentucky House passed legislation that would restore voting rights to people completing sentences for felony convictions, but it did not pass the Senate.
  • In 2014, both the Kentucky House and Senate passed similar rights restoration legislation. However, the legislature did not agree to a final version of the bill.
  • In 2013, Brennan Center Democracy Program Deputy Director Myrna Pérez testified before the Kentucky Legislature’s Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs in support of pre-filed rights restoration legislation that would put a constitutional amendment on the next election’s ballot.

Official Materials on Executive Order

Brennan Center Coverage


Brennan Center Publications

  • Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
    • The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
  • My First Vote (2009)
    • Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions.
  • De Facto Disenfranchisement, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
    • A report on how complex laws, poorly informed officials, and misinformation lead to the de facto disenfranchisement of citizens with past criminal convictions who are eligible to vote.
  • Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
    • A piece examining the historical roots of criminal disenfranchisement laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.

For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in Kentucky, please contact Connie Wu at

Read more here: