Lawsuit to Restore Voting Rights in Kentucky - looking for additional plaintiffs

Posted by: KFTC Staff on January 18, 2019

KFTC's primary strategy for restoring voting rights to Kentuckians with felonies in their past is to change Kentucky's Constitution to permanently grant the right to vote to all 312,000 Kentuckians who don't have the right to vote now.  But our Voting Rights Strategy Team, made up of directly effected people and other members from all over the state, has decided to additionally get involved in a lawsuit arguing that the current system is arbitrary and unconstitutional.

Our most immediate task is to find people who have lost their right to vote to join our list of plaintiffs for the case. 

If you do not have the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement in Kentucky and you're off of probation and parole, and you'd like to join the lawuit as a plaintiff, please reach out to Dave Newton as soon as possible at Dave@kftc.org or 859-420-8919.  Our deadline to reach out to people to add them is Friday, January 25th.

Below is the press release sent out by our allies about the case.


Civil rights groups take on lawsuit to restore felons' voting rights in Kentucky

KENTUCKY – Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center have joined a lawsuit challenging Kentucky's arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of four felons.
Kentucky is one of three remaining states that deny the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration.  Just yesterday Florida dropped off that list when its voting rights restoration system became non-arbitrary by virtue of a recently passed state constitutional amendment. According to the Sentencing Project, as of 2016, Kentucky had an estimated 242,987 felons who were still disenfranchised after completing their full sentences including parole and probation, or 9.14% of the state's voting-age population.

"With Florida adopting a non-arbitrary voting rights restoration system, Kentucky is fighting an increasingly lonely battle to preserve a 19th century system that forces American citizens to plead for restoration of their voting rights," said Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel at Fair Elections Center.  "This lawsuit gives state officials and legislators an opportunity to reform a broken and unconstitutional system which excludes hundreds of thousands of people from our democracy, even if they have already done everything the criminal justice system required of them."

Kentucky's voting rights restoration process requires felons who have completed their full sentences to submit an application for restoration to the Department of Corrections' Division of Probation and Parole. The Division screens the applications and forwards them to the governor who has unconstrained power to grant or deny restoration with no rules, laws, or criteria governing these determinations.

Without any rules, felons are subjected to arbitrary decision-making and the risk of biased treatment, violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

"The right to vote is a fundamental right, probably the most fundamental right. Courts have been very clear: fundamental rights cannot be subject to the arbitrary whims of government officials. Kentucky's arbitrary system now excludes 9% of eligible voters because of a felony conviction, even after they've paid their debt to society in full. We aim to fix this injustice with this lawsuit," said Ben Carter, Senior Counsel at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

The process also lacks any time limits for when the Department of Corrections or the governor must take action. This delay has created a backlog of applications in Kentucky. As of March 2018, there was a backlog of 1,459 restoration of civil rights applications.

"I initially brought the lawsuit because I believe in the Constitution. My family fought for those rights; my ninth-generation grandfather fought in the American Revolution. He would be turning over in his grave if he knew my right to vote was at the mercy of a government official," said plaintiff in the case, Deric Lostutter.

"If people take responsibility for their mistakes and complete their sentences, they shouldn't have to beg the government to regain their right to vote as American citizens," said Stephon Harbin, another plaintiff in the case.

Kentucky's arbitrary rights restoration process violates the U.S. Constitution and hinders people who have done their time, including parole and probation, from truly reentering society. To remedy this violation, the lawsuit asks the court to order the state to establish a non-arbitrary system for rights restoration with specific and neutral criteria for all Kentuckians with felony convictions.


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Public Supports Automatic Restoration of Voting Rights

Posted by: KFTC Staff on January 18, 2019

Our allies at the League of Women Voters released the results of a public poll of Kentuckians this week showing overwhelming support for Voting Rights for people with felonies in their past.  Their news release is below.

LANG HOUSE, LOUISVILLE, KY:  According to a poll released today by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, a majority of Kentuckians, across political affiliation, gender and age categories, support the automatic restoration of voting rights for persons convicted of felonies who have  completed sentencing.

Overall support is 2-1 with 66% in favor and 32% opposed, according to a December 2018 statewide poll of Kentucky voters.  This polling indicates that the highest support for automatic restoration is from those 18-34 years of age with approval at 83% and disapproval at 16%.
Voting Rights Polling ChartKentucky male voters support approval with 63% approving and 36% not approving. Kentucky women voters support automatic restoration by a large majority with 69% approving and 29% not approving.

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Posted by: KFTC Staff on January 7, 2019

print-9321This weekend, KFTC's Voting Rights Strategy Team met in Frankfort with 27 members from all over the state coming together to lay a ground work for victories that will restore voting rights to Kentuckians who don't have the right to vote.  True to our organizing values, many of the people attending have had their right to vote taken away and are fighting to get it back for themselves and the 312,000 other Kentuckians who can't vote now because of our regressive felony disenfranchisement laws.

Kentucky is one of just two states in the US now that take away voting rights from everyone with any kind of felony in their past for the rest of their life unless they can take the extraordinary step of getting their rights restored through a Governor's pardon or expungement.  Just last November, Florida won a ballot ammendment with 65% of voters supporting restoration of voting rights, inspiring many in Kentucky to do the same.

It was an important space for the team members to get to know eachother and root themselves in the many reasons why this issue is important to them - from a sense of fairness to a committment to Democracy, a need to fight racism, or a faith that values redemption.  But mostly, people talked about the need to get justice for people with felonies in their past to vote because they're personally impacted - by having their own rights taken away or because they know and love someone who has lost the right to vote.

"I want my rights back. I paid my dues to society. I’ve been out of trouble since 2003. Y’all do the math. That’s 16 years. For me to be told that I don’t have my rights to vote, it crushed me. I will not stop until I get my rights back to vote, because I am somebody. What does democracy look like? This in this room is what democracy looks like. I will not stop the fight until we all get our rights back.”  - Corey Logan from Fayette

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