Big Voting Rights Win - Executive Action | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Big Voting Rights Win - Executive Action

Governor Andy Beshear's Executive Action of Voting Rights SigningOn Thursday, Governor Andy Beshear signed an executive order to restore voting rights for an estimated 140,000 people with felonies in their past.  It’s an overwhelming and powerful victory 15 years in the making that has the potential to deepen our Democracy in Kentucky.  And with a truer Democracy, so much is possible.

We got most of what we wanted in the executive order.  Most importantly there’s no individual application process - a hurdle that made Steve Beshear’s 2015 executive action on voting rights ineffective.  Also, fines and fees will not exclude people from being able to vote.  The only step someone has to take after determining that the order applies to them is to register to vote.  Andy Beshear deserves a lot of credit for making a strong executive order on the 2nd day of his administration.
Governor Andy Beshear's Executive Action of Voting Rights Signing
That said, it’s not everything we pushed for.  The order excludes people with “violent” felonies using a broad and complicated definition of violent that many Kentuckians who have lost the right to vote will struggle to figure out.

Even when fully implemented and reaching 140,000 new voter registrations, that’s just under half of the people who are denied the right to vote by Kentucky’s felony disenfranchisement laws, so we can genuinely celebrate, but there’s a lot more to do.
Governor Andy Beshear's Executive Action of Voting Rights Signing
Nearly 100 KFTC members and representatives from over a dozen ally groups made it to Frankfort last Thursday on short notice to be there for the signing and show support for it.  Our leaders with felonies in their past spoke to the media before the signing of the executive order, connecting with most major news outlets in the state, plus national and international papers like the New York Times, the Independent, and the Guardian.  In particular, Debbie Graner, Bill Rone, Jeremy Baltz, Tayna Fogle, Shelton McElroy, James Snyder, Michael Hiser,  and Juan Gomez all spoke to the media telling their personal stories.  At one moment, as many as 6 people with felonies in their past were in the capitol rotunda giving an interview at once, and Debbie Graner spoke to 7 media outlets over the course of a few days.  All that has added up to a lot of strong media attention with remarkably little political pushback from anyone who opposes voting rights.

Of course, it didn’t start with an executive order.  Earlier this year, our members met with Andy Beshear to talk about this issue, we had a mass mobilization in February in Frankfort pushing Governor Bevin to take action on Voting Rights, we got 5,000 people to sign a petition for Voting Rights and mobilized those same people to vote in November, and did everything we could along the way to build and demonstrate support for this issue and to make sure people were going to the polls with voting rights on their mind.  It all added up and together, we won.

And of course, it didn’t start this year either.  Over the last 15 years, KFTC members and allies have painstakingly built support around this issue by developing leaders, raising awareness, and winning victories.

But we’re not done yet.  Here are some important next steps:

  • Celebrate!  This victory was a long time coming and tons and tons of our members and allies deserve kudos.  We can center the voices of people who have lost their right to vote (whether this order will restore their rights or not) and show what our members did to win this.
  • We’ll launch a voter registration campaign in 2020 focused on people who just got their right to vote back.
  • We’ll pressure Beshear to continue to do what he can from his side - making the process more transparent, troubleshooting it, and ideally expanding it.
  • We’ll continue pushing for a Constitutional Amendment in the 2020 legislative session starting in January to deepen, broaden and make permanent our voting rights win. 

Governor Andy Beshear's Executive Action of Voting Rights Signing Governor Andy Beshear's Executive Action of Voting Rights Signing
None of this could be possible without tireless work by allied organizations who  have worked on this issue for years - Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Catholic Conference, Kentucky Council of Churches, Poor People's Campaign, Louisville SURJ, People's Campaign, Bluegrass Activist Alliance, League of Women Voters of Kentucky, People Advocating Recovery (PAR), Black Live Matter Louisville, Young People in Recovery (YPR), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Women’s Network, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (KACDL), Jewish Community Relations Council (CRC), KY Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (KBC-LEO), Quaker Committee for Kentucky Legislation, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 874k Coalition, KY Mental Health Coalition, KY Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, AFSCME Council 962, NAACP, Frankfort Anti-Racism Advocates, Commonwealth Alliance / CAVE, Louisville Urban League, Appalshop, Mijente, Common Cause, NCFO/SEIU Kentucky, Central KY Council for Peace and Justice, and AFL-CIO, Together Frankfort, All of us or None, and Making Changes Together.