Right before he left office, former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, signed an executive order that let most convicted felons in the state vote once they complete their sentences. But on Tuesday, the new governor, Republican Matt Bevin, undid the executive order, meaning at least 100,000 people may not gain the right to vote after all.
Ex-felons who already had their voting rights restored will not lose their rights. But those who didn't yet regain their voting rights will have to appeal through the old process, which involves individual applications and is seen as slow and largely impossible by civil rights groups.
Bevin said he supports restoring voting rights for people who served sentences for nonviolent felonies. But he believes that Beshear's order violated the principles of the state constitution, and that any change that restores voting rights should be passed by the legislature, according to the Courier Journal.
The move puts Kentucky back into the category of states — the others being Iowa and Florida — that bans people with felony convictions from voting. But these three states are far from alone in restricting the voting rights of people with criminal records: All but two states have at least some restrictions in place.
Most states have voting restrictions based on criminal records
Only Maine and Vermont allow everyone to vote regardless of criminal record. Most states don't let people in prison, on parole, or on probation vote, and 10 limit at least some felons from voting after they've completed their sentences, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
As a result, the Sentencing Project estimated in 2012 that more than 5.8 million Americans weren't legally allowed to vote due to their criminal records — more than the populations of either Colorado or South Carolina. Several states prohibited 6 to 11 percent of their electorate from voting. And since black Americans are likelier to go to prison, this had a disproportionate impact on the African-American electorate: While the overall disenfranchisement rate didn't break 11 percent for any state, the black disenfranchisement rate topped 20 percent in Florida, Virginia, and, notably, Kentucky.
This is one of the various collateral effects of prison, which include restrictions on employment and bans on receiving welfare benefits, accessing public housing, or qualifying for student loans for higher education.
So not only does prison deprive people of their freedoms while they're incarcerated, but the punishment can follow people for the rest of their lives. This extended punishment can sometimes make it much more difficult for ex-inmates to get benefits that would allow them to get a job or an education, which might leave them with few options but crime to make ends meet. And since black people are more likely to be affected, collateral effects help perpetuate crime in African-American communities.