Conference Supports Automatic Restoration of Voting Rights to Former Felons21 Jan

Kentucky is one of only 4 states that takes away the right to vote from persons convicted of a felony. This is a bar that can only be removed after making application to the Governor. Because each governor differs in how willing he or she is to restore this right, the practice is open to arbitrariness. House Bill 70 is a proposal to change our law by changing the constitution to require the automatic restoration of voting rights after a person completes their sentence. This approach avoids anyone claiming the arbitrary use of discretionary power, and instead provides certainty and predictability. It encourages participation in the community, promotes democracy, and welcomes our sons and daughters back.  If passed Kentuctians will have an opportunity in November to vote for this change.

HB 70 is scheduled to be heard in committee on Tuesday, Jan 24, a 8:30am. Call 1-800-372-7181 and ask your state legislators to support HB 70 if it comes before them in committee and when it is called for a floor vote in his or her chamber. Or send a prepared email message to your legislators by clicking here.

Conference Position

The Conference supports passage of HB 70 because it is in keeping with our social teaching and with the Catholic Catechism. It is our belief that each of us is created in the image of God and that each person possesses a basic dignity the comes from God. As a result we each have certain rights as well as obligations. One such is the right and the obligation to participate in the public life of the community. This obligation finds expression in the Catholic Catechism when it teaches that exercising the right to vote is a moral obligation.


In 2000, the U. S. Bishops called for the criminal justice system to “become less retributive and more rehabilitative.”  In, A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, Revised  (December 2005), the Kentucky Catholic Bishops were true to that call when they asked for a change in public policy to “[p]rovide for the timely restoration of voting rights to offenders.” They said:

Ex-offenders should be welcomed back into society as full participating members, to the extent feasible, and have their right to vote automatically restored. In Kentucky, an estimated 109,000 adults have been disenfranchised as a result of incarceration. Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution suspends the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony, but does allow for that right to be restored. The Governor can grant a limited pardon and restore voting rights to those who have fully satisfied the punishment imposed by the Court. In 2001 the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation requiring the Department of Corrections to implement a simplified process for the restoration of civil rights to eligible felony offenders. The Catholic Conference of Kentucky supported this legislation because it is in accord with our faith’s desire that persons who have completed serving their sentences should become “full participating members” of society, which includes the right to vote. The Governor should exercise his discretion to restore the right to vote to felons who are released from prison on parole or after serving out their sentence. Section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution should be changed to allow for the automatic restoration of voting rights after release from prison or upon completion of sentence.

In addition to wanting to restore persons to full participation in society, there is the added benefit shown by studies that those who have their voting rights restored are also less likely to become repeat offenders. Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, in “Voting and Subsequent Crime and Arrest: Evidence from a Community Sample,” Columbia Human Rights Law Review (2005) “find consistent differences between voters and non-voters in rates of subsequent arrest, incarceration, and self-reported criminal behavior.” In the data studied, between 1997 and 2000, 16% of non-voters were arrested, compared to 5% of voters. For persons with a prior arrest, the analysis of the data indicates that 27% of non-voters were rearrested, compared to 12% of voters.

And a news story in August 2011 in the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Parole Commission, after studying 31,000 cases in 2009 and 2010, found that a released felon in Florida whose civil rights are restored is much less likely to commit a new crime than others in the prison population.

The agency studied 31,000 cases over a two-year period in 2009 and 2010 and found that about 11 percent of people whose civil rights were restored ended up back in custody.

The overall re-offense rate in the state is three times higher — 33 percent — according to the Department of Corrections.

“This report shows clemency is working very well, as 89 percent of convicted felons granted a second chance have not re-offended,” said Reggie Garcia, a Tallahassee lawyer who has helped ex-felons navigate the complicated clemency process for the past 17 years.


Call 1-800-372-7181 and ask your legislators to support HB 70 when they have the opportunity to vote for its passage or in a committee meeting.


Conference Testimony Supporting HB 70

Fact Sheet for Legislators

Photos: Ky Department of Corrections

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