“Idiots and insane persons”
According to Section 145 in Kentucky’s Constitution, the right to vote is guaranteed to all its citizens… except to “idiots and insane persons.” That may cast too wide a net — it’s unlikely a majority of the General Assembly would disqualify itself voluntarily.
Section 145 is also where the Constitution allows lawmakers to strip voting rights from anyone convicted of a felony, which they have enforced to its utmost potential.
Kentucky is one of just three states that imposes a lifetime ban on voting for convicted felons. That means more than 300,000 Kentuckians are banned from voting — over 240,000 of whom have completed their sentences — according to a new study by The League of Women Voters.
One out of every 11 citizens cannot vote in Kentucky, three times the national average. For African-Americans, one of every four — 26 percent — is disenfranchised, the highest rate in the country, according to the study.
How might they vote if they could do so?
For the past several decades, African-Americans have overwhelmingly registered and voted as Democrats, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and the Pew Research Center.
So, only the Republican Party benefits from voter suppression and low turnout.
Gov. Matt “Elected on The Bell Curve” Bevin is chief among the beneficiaries of low-turnout elections (“Bell Curve” being his rap name). It’s been three years since he rescinded the executive order of his predecessor, Gov. Steve Beshear, which automatically restored voting rights to 140,000 nonviolent ex-convicts.
Bevin supported automatic restoration of voting rights when he was campaigning. But, after winning, he reversed course and said that the issue was too important to be resolved by executive order and needed to be done legislatively. “Whereas, it is inappropriate to view this issue in partisan terms, especially since the restoration of civil rights is fundamentally a question of democracy and fairness …,” Bevin argued when overturning Beshear’s executive order.
Felons have two options: They can appeal to the governor for a partial executive pardon. Bevin has granted under 1,000. The three previous governors issued a total of 11,500 according to the study. Or, those with a Class D felony or less can appeal for a judge to expunge their conviction — after a $500 filing fee. Just over 2,000 have had their voting rights restored through the courts in the past two years — less than 1 percent of the number of people who have completed their sentence.
So, what gives?
Bell Curve has (at least) one more election before he considers moving on restoration rights. He benefited from an abysmal turnout in 2015, when only three out of 10 voters turned out, and he won with 16 percent of all registered voters (thus the Bell Curve). And, with his statewide popularity in the 30s, he doesn’t have much incentive to augment the voting population with more Democrats.
His promise to pursue such legislation was either a lie or political deceit, as the number of disenfranchised citizens has nearly doubled since his order.
Yet Kentuckians support restoration of voting rights two-to-one.
It is within Bevin’s power to live up to his promise, follow the will of his constituents and push for legislation to amend the law and restore voting rights for ex-convicts… he could even do it by executive order in the meantime, so more people don’t miss out on yet another election.
We expect he won’t do it, given the history and recent actions of Republicans.
Just last week, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to declare his position on making voting easier: He’s against it.
The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives introduced its first bill, H.R. 1, which would make Election Day a federal holiday so more people could vote (read: more people who cannot afford to take time off from work to vote). McConnell called it a “power grab,” something he knows a lot about.
Actually, the House bill is more of a power push: pushing Mitch’s boot off the necks of the disenfranchised, so their voices can be heard.
If Kentucky allows Matt and Mitch to perpetually treat us like “idiots and insane persons,” we could be the next ones to lose our right to vote.