Kentucky’s New Governor Wastes No Time in Revoking Ex-Felons’ Right to Vote

Timothy D. Easley/AP

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Two weeks before leaving office, the outgoing governor of Kentucky, Democrat Steve Beshear, set up an application process to restore voting rights to the state’s ex-felons. Kentucky is one of three states today that permanently disenfranchise everyone with a felony conviction unless the governor expressly restores the right to vote, a system that disproportionately affects African Americans. The most recent data shows that 5.5 percent of Kentucky’s voting-age population is disenfranchised due to a past conviction—but for African Americans, the number is 16.7 percent.

Beshear’s announcement was expected to give 140,000 disenfranchised ex-felons in Kentucky the right to vote. But only a small number of them were able to take advantage of the new system before Beshear’s successor, Republican Matt Bevin, undid it.

Last week, just before Christmas, the governor issued a series of executive orders scrapping the work of his predecessor, including the restoration of ex-felon voting rights. Bevin’s stated reason for undoing the executive order was that the former governor did not have the authority to change the rules. “While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people,” said Bevin, a tea party favorite. That’s an unusual interpretation of the state constitution, which gives the executive sole power to restore voting rights without any restrictions on how it is done.

The Bevin administration is not shy about claiming executive authority on other matters. On the same day that he ended Beshear’s streamlined process for restoring ex-felons’ rights, he also ended the requirement that marriage licenses bear the name of the presiding county clerk—a concession to Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

“The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor,” William Sharp, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said last week in response to Bevin’s order. “Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority.”

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate