Campus groups push for restoring felons’ voting rights

By Ben Hyatt

Students from several campus groups stood up for the voting rights of former felons at a forum last night in the Student Center.

After watching a 10-minute clip of how one former Rhode Island felon changed his state’s views on the voting rights, students said they wished Kentucky would follow suit. Kentucky is one of two states nationally that does not automatically restore voting rights to felons after they serve time.

“Former convicted felons need the voices of people,” said Alise Marshall, a sociology senior and a student leader in Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s UK chapter. “They have served their debt to society. Give them back their rights.”

The movie clip was followed by a local story of former felon and former UK women’s basketball player Tayna Fogle and her journey back to full citizenship through the right to vote. To regain that right, she had to apply to then-Gov. Paul Patton and pay a fee before being pardoned; she had to apply for a pardon again when former-Gov. Ernie Fletcher took office because one of her two convictions was never removed.

“Things in schools and communities are changing all of the time,” Fogle said. “Decisions on issues in the community are voted on. If you are a convicted felon you can’t vote on those issues, no matter if they include you and your family or not.”

If people pay for the crime they commit and live in society the way everyone else does, then that should earn them the right to vote again, she said.

“If I’m a citizen then I should have citizen rights,” Fogle said. “If I pay my taxes then I should have taxpayers rights. I should get to vote.”

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, said that without the right to vote, felons continue their punishment after they serve their time. If House Bill 70 passed in the House and the Senate, he said, it would restore their rights as citizens.

The state House of Representatives passed the bill last year, but it failed to make it through the Senate. It will be brought back up in the House this year for reconsideration, but Crenshaw said it has not been put on the agenda yet.

“I will work as hard as I can to make House Bill 70 pass — without any amendments to it,” Crenshaw said.

When people are approached about restoring voting rights for felons, their first reaction is to question why felons should have the same rights, said history senior John Ghaelian. But the issue is a lot deeper than that, he said.

“I hope students are made aware that former felons are just trying to get on with their life,” Ghaelian said. “They care about what is going on in their community and they want to vote on the issues that surround them.”

A rally and lobby day will be held in Frankfort for all who share views on voting rights for former felons on Thursday, Feb. 28. Legislators will talk to people about restoration from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with a rally in the Capital Rotunda afterward.