170,000 Kentucky Ex-Felons Just Gained the Right to Vote

A victory for democracy thanks to an executive order.

Via Flickr user Kelley Minars

As of last week, Kentucky was one of just three states—the others are Florida and Iowa—to bar individuals with past criminal convictions from voting. But this week, Governor Steve Beshear changed all that. The Democratic politician issued an executive order restoring voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons who have completed their sentences.

“The old system is unfair and counterproductive,” Beshear said at a news conference Tuesday, according to The Nation. “We need to be smarter about our criminal justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit crimes and [more likely] to be productive members of society.”

An estimated 140,000 Kentuckians immediately gain the right to register to vote, while 30,000 others will become eligible after they complete their sentences.

Governor Steve Beshear, via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

According to research and advocacy organization the Sentencing Project, an estimated 5.85 million citizens cannot vote because of their felony offenses—2.5 percent of the nation’s voting population. That number includes 2.2 million disenfranchised black citizens. Disenfranchisement laws for ex-felons are particularly hard on black men with nonviolent drug records.

Restoring the right to vote to ex-felons is one of a shrinking number of political issues that receives bipartisan support. Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s Republican governor-elect, has said that he supports the change.