US & Canada

New Kentucky governor restores voting rights to ex-felons

Many US states restrict the voting rights of people convicted of felonies Image copyright iStock
Image caption Kentucky historically has a lifetime voting ban for convicts, unless a governor intervenes

The newly elected governor of Kentucky Andy Beshear has restored the right to vote to up to 140,000 people with non-violent felony convictions - a move praised by rights groups.

The Democratic governor's executive order applies to those who have already completed their sentences.

The US state bans convicts from voting for life, unless a governor intervenes.

About 10% of Kentucky's voting age population - some 312,000 people - are currently not allowed to vote.

That figure rises to more than a quarter for the voting age black population. Ex-felons can only win back their right to vote via a reprieve from the state government.

What did Gov Beshear say?

Before signing the executive order on Thursday, Mr Beshear criticised the state's high rate of disenfranchisement for convicts.

"I believe it is an injustice that their ability to fully rejoin society by casting a vote on election day is automatically denied regardless of the circumstances of their offense," he said.

"When people vote, they're showing they're invested in our democracy, in our society and in their communities."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Andy Beshear narrowly beat Republican Matt Bevin in November's governor vote in Kentucky

In issuing the executive order, the governor followed in the footsteps of his father Steve Beshear, a former governor of the state who signed a similar order in 2015.

Republican governor Matt Bevin scrapped that order after taking office later the same year, but Mr Bevin was ousted by Mr Beshear by a narrow margin in November's gubernatorial election.

Blair Bowie, a US attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, said the governor's order would be a "major victory for the rights restoration movement".

"But the order must be well-crafted to meet its goals," he said in a statement.

Only two other states, Iowa and Virginia, still permanently remove voting rights from those with felony convictions. Several states, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Louisiana, have recently passed laws allowing released convicts to vote.

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