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Monday, February 25, 2013

Bluegrass Poll's Great News: Kentucky Supports Restoring Felon Voting Rights.

THE COURIER-JOURNAL BLUEGRASS POLL® is based on surveys conducted Feb. 19 to 21 with 616 Kentucky registered voters by SurveyUSA. Seventy-three percent of respondents were interviewed on their home telephone in the recorded voice of a professional announcer, while the other 27 percent were shown a questionnaire on their smart phone, tablet or other electronic device.
The margin of error for the polled question was plus or minus 4 percentage points. In theory, one can say with 96 percent certainty that the results would not vary by more than the stated margin of sampling error, in one direction or the other, had all respondents with telephones been interviewed with complete accuracy. Percentages based on subsamples are subject to a higher potential margin of error.

In addition to these sampling errors, the practical difficulties of conducting any survey can also influence the results.

A majority of Kentucky voters say they favor amending the state constitution to allow convicted felons to regain their right to vote once they serve their full sentences.
A poll of 616 registered voters taken Feb. 19-21 by SurveyUSA for The Courier-Journal found that 51 percent favored such an amendment, while 38 percent opposed it. The poll question had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Many Kentuckians appear to share the view of Thomas Vance, 62, a disabled retired Air Force master sergeant who lives in Alexandria . In a follow-up interview, Vance said denying felons the vote after they serve their sentence is “piling on.”

“It is just not fair,” he said. “If I did my time, that should be the end of it.”
Kentucky is one of only five states that bar all felons from the polls unless their voting rights are restored through a pardon from the governor or another agency.

Thirty-six states automatically restore voting rights for ex-felons, and two allow felons to vote by absentee ballot from prison. The others impose waiting periods.

The Kentucky House for six straight years — including this one — has passed a bill to restore voting rights to some felons, but Republican leaders in the Senate have blocked it from coming to a vote.
Supporters of House Bill 70, which passed the House 75-25 Wednesday and would put a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights on the ballot, said they hope the poll results will prompt the Senate to pass the bill.
“Folks in the legislature are always looking to see what the general population is thinking,” said Marian McClure Taylor, executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches.

The poll found support for a constitutional amendment among all groups except voters who described themselves as conservatives, who narrowly opposed it, 47-44 percent.
Republicans split 45-45, while Democrats favored it 57-31 and liberals 65-24.
Raoul Cunningham, president of the NAACP’s Louisville chapter, said “it is a good sign that as many Republicans support it as oppose it.”

But Tim Coleman, the immediate past president of the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Association, said the prosecutors’ group still opposes automatic restoration of voting rights to felons.
Conservatives, including some prosecutors, say that by committing a crime, felons have shown they aren’t responsible enough to participate in voting and self government.

Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a conservative think tank in Falls Church, Va., cautioned that the poll results may reflect how the question was posed.
“I think most people share my view that some people who have completed their sentences should have their right to vote restored and some should not, depending on the seriousness of the crime, how long ago it occurred and what they have done since they got out of prison,” Clegg said. “And it is very difficult to write a statute that weighs all those factors.”

HB 70 proposes a constitutional amendment that would allow restoration of voting rights once a felon receives a final discharge from parole or probation, or their maximum prison sentence has expired.
It would exempt felons convicted of treason, intentional killing, sex crimes or bribery. The amendment would have to be ratified by voters before taking effect.

Proponents of automatic restoration — including the League of Women Voters and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky — say that voting is the most fundamental expression of citizenship, that the restrictions disproportionately disenfranchise blacks, and that they are a vestige of Jim Crows laws designed to keep minorities from voting.

The League found in a 2006 study that nearly one in four African Americans is banned from the polls because of a felony conviction, compared with 1 in 17 Kentuckians overall.
The Bluegrass Poll found that 77 percent of blacks support a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights, compared with 49 percent of white voters. But more people supported than opposed an amendment regardless of race, age or sex.

Benjamin Cooley, 46, a disabled information technology profession from Hopkinsville and a Republican, said once felons have “served their time, they have paid their debt to society. They should have their suffrage restored.”

But Larry Ratliff, 58, of Verona, a retired school custodian, said, “They lost their right when they committed a felony, and I don’t think they should get it back.”
Wanda Page, 71, a retired bookkeeper who lives in Bullitt County, said she was undecided on an amendment because she thinks restoring felon voting rights should “depend on the circumstances.”

State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, who favors HB 70, said some senators have opposed the measure in the past for fear of being seen as “soft on crime,” as well as for political reasons. It is assumed that felons whose rights are restored would more likely vote Democrat.
Neal also said that there is a “racial component” to the opposition, whether “they intend it or not,” because of the disproportionate impact on blacks.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, did not respond to requests for comment on the polls results.
Thayer, who has opposed the bill in past sessions, denied in an interview last year that politics is a consideration. He also said the greater impact on blacks didn’t concern him.
“A felon is a felon, regardless of race," he said.


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