By Eli Yokley
As Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear prepares to leave office, he is attempting to leave his mark on an issue that has made his state an outlier.
On Tuesday, the Democratic governor issued an executive order that put in place an automatic process to restore voting rights to nonviolent ex-felons once they have completed their sentence _ a move that might allow 170,000 more Kentuckians the right to register to vote.
Kentucky is one of four states _ along with Iowa, Florida and Virginia _ in which people with felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised in their state constitutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe took a similar action to the one taken Tuesday by Beshear.
"Once an individual has served his or her time and paid all restitution, society expects them to reintegrate into their communities and become law-abiding and productive citizens. A key part of that transition is the right to vote," he said during a news conference.
Beshear's executive order comes after a failed effort in the Kentucky Legislature to call for a ballot measure to change the state's constitution.
While restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-felons is something that has earned bipartisan support _ including from Matt Bevin, the Republican who will replace Beshear next month _ the executive order has drawn criticism.
"My issue with today's action is not about the restoration of those rights, but the fact once again this governor has chosen to usurp the authority of the Kentucky General Assembly through executive order," said Jeff Hoover, the Republican leader in the Kentucky House.
A spokesman for Bevin said Tuesday that he has "said many times that the restoration of voting rights for certain offenders is the right thing to do," but that Beshear's "executive order will be evaluated during the transition period."