In Kentucky, there are tens of thousands of individuals who will not be voting on Tuesday—not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t.
Kentucky, like Iowa and Florida, imposes a lifetime ban on voting and holding office for residents who have felony records. Across the country, the total number of Americans disenfranchised due to similar laws amounts to 6.2 million, according to the Sentencing Project.
But whereas Florida is likely going to approve a constitutional amendment that could re-enfranchise as many as 1.4 million residents, Kentuckians—particularly African-Americans—are not as lucky. Close to one in 10 of the state’s voting age adults are banned from voting, and that number is higher amongst African-Americans: 26% have been disenfranchised—the highest rate of African-American disenfranchisement in the country.
Overall, Kentucky has the third highest felony disenfranchisement rate in the country. 92% of those disenfranchised are not incarcerated and 78% have fully completed their sentence, often for drug-related offenses.
Similar to Florida, Kentucky’s recent Democratic governor restored voting rights to many residents via an executive order in 2015. Approximately 140,000 individuals with nonviolent felony records regained the right to vote, but Republican Governor Matt Bevin overturned the order shortly after taking office.
Without such an order, those with felony records must complete a detailed application form, which is then sent to the governor for approval. The governor is not required to sign the applications, however, and there is no timeframe in which they must be approved, meaning that a large percentage of applications can remain pending. As of March 2018, Gov. Bevin had only signed 54% of the applications sent to him since he took office in 2015.