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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
states automatically restore voting rights for ex-felons, and two allow
felons to vote by absentee ballot from prison. The others impose
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
including some prosecutors, say that by committing a crime, felons have
shown they aren’t responsible enough to participate in voting and self
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.
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
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.
would exempt felons convicted of treason, intentional killing, sex
crimes or bribery. The amendment would have to be ratified by voters
before taking effect.
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
also said that there is a “racial component” to the opposition, whether
“they intend it or not,” because of the disproportionate impact on
President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and Senate Majority Leader Damon
Thayer, R-Georgetown, did not respond to requests for comment on the
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.