A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

With eyes on Governor Matt Bevin, Kentuckians with felonies fight to regain their right to vote


By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

People with felonies in their past are rallying in Frankfort today, calling on Gov. Matt Bevin to return voting rights to people who have been convicted of felonies.

More than 300,000 Kentuckians can’t vote because of a felony conviction, according to the latest report from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

Kentuckians with felony convictions who have served their time are demanding the right to vote. (Photo by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth/Flickr, via PNS)

In November 2015, outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order to allow for restoration of voting rights through an administrative process – but his successor reversed that order shortly after taking office.

At 68, Debra Graner of Frankfort said she got involved in voting rights activism after realizing the impact not being able to vote has had on her.

“You made a mistake somewhere in your life, you’ve turned your life around, you’ve paid your dues,” Graner said. “And the one big thing that you have, the one big opportunity you have to interact and do something for your community – and the Commonwealth, and the nation – is to vote. Here in Kentucky, it’s taken away forever.”

Kentucky and Iowa are the only states that institute a lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions. In Kentucky, they can only have their voting rights restored through an executive pardon from the governor.

James Sweasy, a 42-year-old entrepreneur and speaker, has one felony marijuana possession charge from his early 20s. He described himself as a taxpaying citizen whose felony has followed him his entire life and taken a psychological toll.

“The main thing, at such a young age, it puts you, at least in your own mind – and also in the mind of others – in a different class,” Sweasy explained. “You are now a different class of person. And it will follow you everywhere.”

Since 2007, there have been several failed legislative attempts to change the Kentucky Constitution to allow for the automatic restoration of voting rights for people with felonies who have completed their sentences.


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