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Felons possibly getting the right to vote sparks controversy

COVINGTON, Ky. (Joe Webb) -- In most states convicted felons lose their right to vote but they get it back when they've done their time.

Not in Kentucky.  You have to get a pardon from the Governor to get your voting rights back.  The general assembly has wrestled with this issue for the last several sessions and last week, for the first time, a bill passed the senate.

But it has some serious restrictions, including a 5-year waiting period.  Even the league of women voters says it can't support that.  Anthony Bush is one of 180,000 convicted felons in Kentucky who lost the right to vote and haven't got it back.  He did his time and says he's been clean for a couple of years.

"If you've done the time, ya know, time waits for no man so why shouldn't I have a chance to get right back out and start my life over?  You want me to be productive in the community.  Why should I have to wait 5 years to vote," Bush asked?

The five year wait is just one of many amendments Kentucky's Senate tacked on the bill last week and sent back to the House.  The league of women voters says those changes would keep more than 100,000 of those 180,000 from voting again.  The original bill would have removed the permanent voting ban for all but a handful of serious crimes including murder and crimes against children.  It effects a disproportionate number of African-American men.

Clinton Jackson said, "If the father votes, the mother votes then the children will look for the opportunity to vote. So voting is very, very important."

Currently, Kentucky's convicted felons can get their voting rights restored but only by a special pardon granted by the sitting Governor.  That takes time.  The league of women voters also pulled back its support of the amended bill because of the extra work it would create for county clerks.  The amendments pile on restrictions, and force clerks to make judgments on what crimes are deal breakers. 

Kenton County Clerk Game Summe said, "The procedural issues have not been defined and would be a burden for my office.  Very time consuming and I'd be making a judgment call if they meet certain criterias."

The bill now goes back to the House with the raft of amendments.  Senate leader Damon Thayer says the Senate will not even bring it up for a vote if it comes back without the amendments.  If it ultimately passes, Kentucky voters will have to approve it because this would amend the state constitution.

Kentucky is one of the four most restrictive states banning former felons from voting.  Illinois, Ohio and Indiana restore voting rights when a convicted felon completes his sentence.  Many states restore them after the inmate completes his sentence and any probation or parole supervision.

Follow Joe Webb on Twitter @joewebbwkrc, and LIKE him on Facebook.




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