‘We cannot be done.’ Kentucky community members rally for voting rights at state Capitol


Travis Fannon

Kentuckians gather for the “We Love Voting Rights” Lobby Day and Rally on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in the Kentucky State Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Alexis Baker, Staff Reporter

Members of the commonwealth gathered for the “We Love Voting Rights” Lobby Day and Rally in the rotunda of the Kentucky Capitol building on Tuesday, Feb. 14. 

Shouting voices echoed through the hallways of the Capitol building making it known  demonstrators stood for formerly incarcerated individuals’ right to vote, during the rally hosted by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC).

The rally began with chanting the phrases “voting rights,” “I love voting rights” and “you love voting rights” in hopes it would reach the higher chambers where legislators worked. 

The rally was led by Shelton McElroy, a community member who said he was “impacted by incarceration.” McElroy introduced a variety of speakers who spoke about their passion for voting rights and shared personal experiences. 

Tayna Fogle, KFTC’s lead organizer, stood at the Capitol before the rally to teach students voting for the first-time about aspects of the government they have yet to learn.

“Their parents elected me into office,” Fogle said. “I’m just a basic, everyday advocate for voting rights in Lexington and across the state of Kentucky and nationally.”

Roger Fox, a social worker from Danville, Kentucky, is in long-term recovery. He said his daughter sparked his passion for voter advocacy.

Fox said while his daughter was working on a school project, she asked her mom who she was going to vote for, and she answered. 

When Fox’s daughter asked Fox, there was no response. He explained to his daughter that due to his former incarceration Fox could not vote.

Fox’s voting rights have since been restored by Governor Beshear’s executive order for the civil rights of convicted felons in 2019. According to Kentucky.gov, the executive order gave over 140,000 people the right to vote. 

“I looked at my daughter, and I said, ‘I can’t be done.’ We cannot be done,” Fox said. “What’s been done in the executive order is great, it created some clarity for us, but we need a clear pathway for this restoration of rights.”

There was a consensus among the crowd that action doesn’t define a person. 

When Alaina Sweezy, a mother of two in long-term recovery and formerly incarcerated, took the microphone, she called for a ballot initiative to restore voting rights. She said that the community would not stop until they reach their goal.

“As a human being, a citizen of this country and community member in the state of Kentucky, I deserve to not be labeled as the worst thing I’ve ever done,” Sweezy said. 

The crowd cheered as the speakers’ words bounced up the rotunda walls. 

Cheers amplified as Kenneth Jenkins made his way to the podium.

Jenkins struggled for air as he was on an oxygen machine, but he still incited his passion for voting rights for all and emphasized the productivity that voting brings to the table. 

“As Kentuckians, we all say we want to look out for each other, so this is a good place to start,” Jenkins said. “I believe that we can do this together.”

Not all legislation is against the fight for equal opportunity voting rights. McElroy highlighted that Rep. Keturah Herron, Rep. George Brown and Sen. Gerald Neal support their initiative. 

Former Rep. Charles Booker made an appearance at the rally as well.

“Today is really about raising awareness that we’re not giving up this fight, that the momentum is behind us,” Booker said in an interview after the rally. “Me working here in the Capitol now, but even our work over the years, has really been about sticking to the fight – knowing that our lives are worth it. Today was just a resounding statement that we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to win.”