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Building a Healthy Democracy! A Look at KFTC’s Work to Expand and Protect Voting Rights in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly.

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Presentation on theme: "Building a Healthy Democracy! A Look at KFTC’s Work to Expand and Protect Voting Rights in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly."— Presentation transcript:

1 Building a Healthy Democracy! A Look at KFTC’s Work to Expand and Protect Voting Rights in the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly

2 Democracy! We Love It! KFTC’s work is rooted in empowering people to help elevate the voices of those too often ignored by the system, including by encouraging them to take part in elections. Our work with allies have built momentum in a campaign to ensure that more Kentuckians fundamental right to vote is protected! Success in our campaign would buck a worrying national trend towards making it more difficult for people to vote.

3 A Brief History of Voting Rights in Kentucky Kentucky has had four constitutions since our founding 1792, and countless changes to our voter enfranchisement laws. Kentucky had before 1792 been part of Virginia, and as a result we inherited many of their voting requirements in our initial constitution. Our first constitution was progressive by the standards of the day. Any free men 21 or older could vote, with no stipulation that you had to own land or other property. You also had to live in the United States at least 2 years, and one year in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

4 History of Kentucky Voting Rights continued… Our 2 nd constitution took a step back. It’s adoption in 1799 removed the right to vote to resident aliens, free “negroes, mulattoes and Indians”. 1838 Kentucky becomes one of the first states to allow women are allowed to vote in School Board elections. Kentucky’s 3 rd constitution in 1850 specifies a person must be “white” to be able to vote, instead of enumerating races that could not vote.

5 Kentucky Voting Rights, continued some more In 1851 Kentucky began disenfranchising ALL former felons for life. Until then the law was clear, and the legislature did not actively seek to disenfranchise former felons for their crimes as often 1869 the 15 th Amendment was adopted. African-Americans could vote, according to the federal constitution. Beginning of Jim Crow, which sped up with reentry of former confederate states back into the union. Poll taxes, grandfather clause, and literacy tests were thinly veiled attempts to keep African-Americans from voting. Many southern states also rewrote criminal punishments to create longer penalties for African-Americans, and disenfranchisement of former felons became more common throughout the country (especially the south)

6 Kentucky’s History of Voting Rights, Final Slide 1888, Kentucky one of first states to introduce “Australian Ballot”, which we still have. Private ballot makes vote buying and voter coercion more difficult. 1891 Kentucky’s current constitution ratified. Reduces time person has to live in state to be able to vote. 1920 -> Women win right to vote via 19 th Amendment. Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 extends citizenship to all non-Citizen Indians born within the United States. Kentucky allows 18-20 year olds to vote in 1955, 16 years before the 26 th amendment. Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law, and dismantles some of the most egregious Jim Crow practices.

7 Where does KFTC come in? In 2004, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth in Lexington began working to protect LexTran. As a result, KFTC members registered and did voter turnout throughout Lexington, with a special emphasis on the impacted north side. Central Kentucky members were dismayed at the number of people in their communities unable to vote, and KFTC began our statewide voting rights campaign.

8 How bad is it? We now know that Kentucky has the third highest rate of mass disenfranchisement, with over 7 percent of all Kentuckians unable to vote. Or, roughly, 1 in every 17 Kentuckians does not have the right to vote. Over 20 percent of African-Americans in Kentucky do not have the right to vote, the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country This policy removes over 243,000 Kentuckians from having a say in so-called “representative government.”

9 There’s more?!? Governor Beshear may have streamlined the process, but the process is left entirely up to the governor. This means a new governor in 2016 can make it easier or harder for former felons to be able to vote. Many who apply for voting rights never hear back if their application was granted or denied, and there is no way to formally track the progress.

10 Benefits of Voting Rights By changing the policy, we could empower nearly a quarter of a million people to have a say in what their government is doing. Studies have shown that former felons who vote are half as likely to recidivate. These citizens pay taxes like the rest of us, and yet are denied the right to representation.

11 Former Felons Speak Out Let’s hear from Teddi! Questions for Teddi? Reflections on her story?

12 Your Story is Powerful! Many people are involved in this campaign because they have been impacted, and it’s important that people hear these stories. Not everyone’s reason for caring about this issue is because they are directly impacted, and it’s important that those of us who are not former felons develop our stories as well. These stories are important to relate to legislators as well, and to encourage friends who are not directly impacted to illustrate why they need to get involved in the campaign as well.

13 Virginia’s Story! Why are you involved Virginia? How did you develop your story? Why do you think it’s important allies of former felons speak up?

14 How do we get to our solution? House Bill 70, sponsored by Representative Jesse Crenshaw, and Senate Bill 15, sponsored by Senator Gerald Neal, both would change Kentucky’s constitution to give voting rights back to most former felons who have completed their sentence. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it will require both 60 percent of the votes in the State House of Representatives and the State Senate, AND a majority vote in the next general election (November 4 th 2014).

15 How do we do that? We have worked ….

16 And worked…

17 Seriously, how do we get there? … and worked on this issue. And through that we have built up a lot of awareness and momentum. Polls in 2006 and 2013 (University of Kentucky and Bluegrass Poll) each showed well over 50% of Kentuckians support voting rights for former felons, and opposition in the mid 30’s. We’ve seen more coverage in recent years on this issue. Editorials, blogs, podcasts, and social media show an increased awareness and desire to make this happen. Both here and across the country, this policy has strong support across party and ideological lines.

18 What broad based support? According to the Brennan Center, of the last 19 states to lessen restrictions on voting for at least some former felons, 16 occurred under states with either uniform Republican or split Democratic/Republican control. We’ve had great meetings with key State Senators who support this bill, including Senators like Alice Forgy- Kerr, Tom Buford, Dan Seum, and Brandon Smith. We have heard from State Senator Gerald Neal that other State Senators across party lines have expressed an interest in making this the year we pass a voting rights amendment!

19 Potential Road Blocks There has been a desire among some legislators to link this with voter id restrictions. Either by trading one piece of legislation for another, or by making stricter voter identification part of the amendment itself. These laws would make Kentucky’s existing laws more stringent, and limit what would constitute acceptable forms of voter identification.

20 What is Kentucky’s Voter ID Law? In Kentucky, all voters must produce identification or be known by a precinct officer prior to voting. Types of ID that can be used by the voter include the personal acquaintance of precinct officer, driver’s license, Social Security card, credit card, any ID issued by the county, or another form of ID containing both picture and signature. During testimony over the summer, the Leslie County Clerk was asked about his opinion about voter id laws, and specifically about the personal acquaintance clause. He expressed strong support to keep this clause, and stated a bigger threat to Kentucky elections is vote buying.

21 Potential Impact of Voter Identification As many as 25% of African American citizens of voting age do not have a government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of their white counterparts, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. 18% of Americans over the age of 65 (or 6 million senior citizens) do not have a government-issued photo ID, according to the ACLU. In Pennsylvania, the state estimated that 9% of Pennsylvania residents would be impacted by their new voter id law. However, this rate was as high as 1 in 3 residents in the city of Philadelphia and largely in precincts with a high population of people of color and students according to the Azavea Journal in 2012. An analysis by Reuters and the research firm Ipsos found that out of 20,000 voter interviews they conducted, those who lack valid photo ID tended to be young people, those without college educations, Hispanics and the poor. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the impact of these new stricter voter id laws nationwide could prevent up to 21 million people from voting.

22 What does this mean for voting rights? Any changes to Kentucky election laws, given low turnout in recent years, should remove barriers from our democracy, not create new ones. This starts with House Bill 70/ Senate Bill 15. The issues of voter identification and voting rights for former felons ought to be kept separate, as the two impact separate groups of people. We and our allies have stated that we have compromised quite a bit already to put House Bill 70 and Senate Bill 15 where it is now. A bipartisan supermajority negotiated this bill several years ago, and any further restriction would serve only to dilute the bill.

23 What can I do to keep up the momentum? Join us and bring friends on Wednesday, January 15 th ! Room 113 from 9-12:30, rally in the Capitol Rotunda at 1. Join us at 50 th Anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Frankfort! This will be March 5 th with lots of great allies and speakers. Call and write your legislators! (1-800-372-7181) Write a letter to the editor!


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