LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Fewer Felons Seeing Voting Rights Restored Under Fletcher

A quarter of felons who applied this year to have their voting rights restored have been granted the request, down from 52 percent last year and 86 percent in 2003, when Gov. Paul Patton left office.

The Corrections Department provided that information Wednesday to a legislative panel, but Corrections Commissioner John Rees told the panel his agency does not decide who gets their civil rights restored.

The department gives applications to felons at the end of their sentences and, if they fill out the forms and submit a $2 fee, the agency begins the paperwork. The governor's office decides each case, Rees told the budget subcommittee for justice and the judiciary.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher imposed stricter rules for restoring voting rights last year. He requires felons who apply for the restoration of their voting rights to write an essay, provide three character references and survive a possible veto by local prosecutors. As a general rule, Patton simply approved felons' applications after they served their sentences and paid restitution.

"It is an affront to democracy when you see these numbers," said Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

In 2001, the legislature passed a law that simplified the application process and paperwork.

The number of applications immediately jumped, from 831 in 2000 to an annual average of about 1,100 in following years.

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, D-Lexington, sponsored the 2001 changes because, he said, it's healthier for felons who have served their time to be fully involved in society, "not ostracized forever like outcasts." The rejection rates under Fletcher have reversed that progress, he said.

Crenshaw, a lawyer, said many of his criminal-defense clients are poor and badly educated, and the stricter application process that seems easy to college graduates has intimidated them.

"I'd like to see, if possible, a return to what it was," he said. "How can we get more people their rights restored?"

Fletcher's general counsel, Jim Deckard, did not attend Wednesday's hearing and did not return calls seeking comment.

In a statement, he said that Fletcher's process is an improvement because it gives prosecutors "a real and substantial role in communicating their advice as to individual requests."

Deckard's predecessor, John Roach, last year explained that Fletcher is keeping the right to vote in the proper hands.

The process "allows us to actually make sure that they're worthy of having their civil rights restored," said Roach, whom Fletcher put on the Kentucky Supreme Court this year.