In 2015, then-Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an restoring the voting rights of more than 100,000 people with felony records. His successor, Matt Bevin, quickly undid the executive order. On Tuesday, Bevin appeared to lose his reelection bid to Andy Beshear, the former governor’s son. (Bevin is yet to concede). The new governor-elect is poised to sign another executive order that restores voting rights to at least some people with felony records after they’ve served their sentences — potentially increasing the voter rolls by more than 100,000, reports Vox. Kentucky has one of the strictest laws disenfranchising people with felony records, banning ex-felons from voting for life unless they get a reprieve from the state government, even after they finish serving out their prison sentences, parole, or probation. It is only one of two states, along with Iowa, with such a lifetime ban.
The Sentencing Project has estimated that the ban blocks more than 300,000 people from voting, more than nine percent of the voting-age population. Due to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the ban disproportionately affects black voters, with more than a quarter of the black voting age population in Kentucky prohibited from voting. Florida previously had a lifetime ban for people with felony records, but voters struck it down in 2016. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is pushing to eliminate her state’s ban through a constitutional amendment. If Reynolds is successful, and Beshear follows through on his promise to restore voting rights for some ex-felons in Kentucky, no state would still have a strict lifetime ban. Beshear’s move would leave people unable to vote if they are still serving prison sentences or on parole, or probation.