This week, Gov. Matt Bevin returned voting rights to 24 Kentuckians with felony convictions.
“We have always been a nation of second chances,” Bevin said in a press release announcing the action.
But 98 percent of the people who’ve asked Bevin for a second chance since he took office are still waiting.
The Department of Corrections has sent Bevin more than 1,100 applications for restoration of voting rights since Jan. 1, 2016, an agency spokeswoman said. Last year, Bevin didn’t give anyone their rights back.
It was the first time in at least two decades that a governor declined to restore anyone’s rights. Prior to Bevin, the fewest grants came in 2007, when 265 felons had their rights restored.
Kentucky is one of only three states with a permanent ban on felon voting, and as a result, one in four black Kentuckians is barred from the voting booth. The governor’s sign-off is one of only three ways to reclaim voting rights in Kentucky: The other avenues are a costly expungement — available only to certain offenders — or a full pardon. (Read “Kentucky 3rd In Nation In Barring Felons From The Voting Booth“)
Bevin’s spokesman did not respond to an emailed question about the governor’s criteria.
Of the 24 recipients, 16 have drug-related convictions, mostly tied to manufacturing methamphetamines. Others given second chances include Ruth and Kenneth Gambill, who admitted paying kickbacks to Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley and were sentenced to home detention in 2014.
The Gambills’ company in Magoffin County bid on county bridge-building contracts and other work in Morgan County, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Conley admitted that he secretly opened bids and lowered Kenneth Gambill’s bid to make sure he won the contracts. In return, Kenneth Gambill kicked part of the money back to the judge-executive. The Gambills’ probation orders were terminated less than four months ago.
Kentucky’s governors have restored the rights of about 10,000 people since 2005, according to the secretary of state’s office. That figure does not include pardons, which go through a separate process.
The restoration only impacts the right to vote or hold office. Felons with their rights restored by the governor still can’t possess a firearm. To receive restoration, an applicant’s parole or probation case must be closed, with no restitution owed or new indictments pending.
Bevin has been a vocal supporter of improving re-entry for criminal offenders. Last year, he issued a “ban the box” executive order, preventing state agencies from asking about criminal history on a job application. He also signed into law a bill that allows some felons to apply for an expungement.
But some advocates say the $500 filing fee for expungement and limited number of eligible felonies leaves many potential recipients in the dark. Advocates criticized Bevin after he rescinded former Gov. Steve Beshear’s order to automatically restore rights to a majority of the state’s felons.
“If he really wanted to help the state of Kentucky, he could have left Gov. Beshear’s order in place and he could have granted every petition that crossed his plate that was non-violent,” said Tayna Fogle, an organizer with advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. “I think most of Kentucky has someone in their family that is touched by incarceration or drug addiction.”
Fogle had her voting rights restored a decade ago by Gov. Ernie Fletcher. She said Tuesday she has friends who have waited upwards of a decade for the same right.
Most of the people granted their rights this week waited less than six months since their sentences expired, records show.
Bevin noted in his press release there would be more opportunities for second chances “in the months and years ahead.”
Kate Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (502) 814.6546.