A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

ACLU-KY voter registration campaign underway to register Kentuckians with past felony convictions

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (ACLU-KY) has launched the most expansive voter registration and engagement campaign in its history. A total of 175,000 Kentuckians with past felony convictions had their voting rights restored by executive order in December 2019. While these Kentuckians’ voting rights were automatically restored, they still must register to vote if they want to participate in the election.

ACLU-KY’s advocacy team has hired two campaign staff, Heather Ayer and Marcus Jackson, who are connecting with newly eligible voters to make sure they’ve heard the good news, know how to register to vote, and know how to cast a ballot. Ayer and Jackson are reaching these Kentuckians through texts, phone calls, direct mail, social media advertisements, print advertisements, community organizations, and transit ads.

Ayer is using her past campaign experience to launch ACLU-KY’s text banking program. She is recruiting and managing volunteers who connect directly with eligible voters. In a two-hour volunteer session last week, 18 volunteers sent 12,000 texts in just two hours. Heather is also using her outreach experience to help ACLU-KY reach 65,000 people through direct mail.

“Many Kentuckians simply don’t know their rights have been restored,” said Ayer, ACLU-KY Campaign Coordinator. “After our 65,000 postcards hit mailboxes last week, we started receiving calls from folks requesting help with registration and more information,” Ayer added. “My volunteers and I are excited to help these Kentuckians exercise their right to vote, many of whom are getting to for the first time ever.”

Jackson is using his community engagement experience to build organizational relationships with groups throughout the commonwealth. He is connecting with community organizations and advocacy groups that work closely with people affected by Kentucky’s criminal legal system. Marcus hopes to create long term relationships to build a diverse coalition of Kentuckians who will work together to advocate for justice reform.

“Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote,” said Jackson, ACLU-KY Smart Justice Advocate Coordinator. “Access to the ballot is not only important for individuals after incarceration. It is also important for their health and the wellbeing of their families and the communities they are returning to, particularly at this moment in our nation’s history.”

Until 2019, Kentucky was one of only two states to deny voting rights to all people with past felony convictions. This requirement prevented roughly 9 percent of otherwise eligible voters from exercising their rights. It disproportionately silenced Black Kentuckians, barring nearly 25 percent of otherwise eligible Black voters. The executive order is a significant step in the right direction; however, it leaves behind more than 65,000 Kentuckians and could be rescinded by a future governor’s order. ACLU-KY will continue working the Kentucky General Assembly to permanently remove this draconian measure from the Kentucky Constitution.

All people whose voting rights were restored have either completed their entire sentence, probation, and parole, or have completed their entire sentence and remain on probation or parole only because of unpaid fines or restitution. The order does not apply to people who were convicted of felonies related to bribery; treason; sex offenses; some “violent” offenses, as defined by Kentucky law; out of state; or under federal law.

Anyone with a past felony conviction can visit ACLU-KY.org/ROVR to learn more, see if their rights were restored, register to vote by Oct. 5, and request a mail-in absentee ballot by Oct. 9. Checking your voting rights status is free and online, and all you need are your name and birthday.

Other advocacy groups working on this issue independently and in partnership with ACLU-KY include Just Leadership USA, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Louisville Urban League, Life Coach Each One Teach One, and All of Us or None of Us – Louisville.

From American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky

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