Automatic restoration of voting rights benefits citizens, commonwealth
BY JASON D. HALL, CATHOLIC CONFERENCE OF KENTUCKY
Kentucky legislators and voters have an opportunity to renew our commitment to democracy, second chances, and restorative justice.
Kentucky is one of only three states that bars citizens with felony convictions from voting for the rest of their lives. This requirement is spelled out in our state Constitution, which was drafted in an historical era with far fewer non-violent felonies on the books. As we have expanded the list of felonies over the years, we have permanently disenfranchised a larger and larger number of Kentuckians.
The bishops of Kentucky and their predecessors have, for many years, voiced strong support for the automatic restoration of voting rights at the conclusion of a person’s sentence. The Kentucky Council of Churches, of which the Catholic Church is a member along with 10 other Christian denominations and traditions, also strongly supports this initiative.
Participation in the political life of one’s community is a right and also an obligation. The tradition of Catholic social thought places great emphasis on the common good – the sum total of conditions that allow people to thrive, both as individuals and as families and groups. This concept includes a robust concept of rights, but also puts an emphasis on the responsibility each of us has to help build up the communities in which we live. Voting is one of the ways that we fulfill that responsibility.
It is our belief that each of us is created in the image of God and that each and every person possesses a basic dignity that comes from God. As a result, we have certain rights as well as obligations. This is a basic expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, and one of the ways we fulfill this obligation to our communities is through voting and other political activity.
We understand the reasons why a felony conviction results in the loss of the right to vote. The commission of a crime is a breach of trust with one’s neighbors and an act that causes them harm. Society needs an effective justice system to hold people accountable and protect all of us.
However, once the conditions set by that system have been met, the interest of society is best met by the person who committed the criminal act once again accepting and fulfilling the responsibilities to their community. That includes working, paying taxes, meeting their family obligations, and participating in the political life of their communities.
This General Assembly has taken several steps over recent years to encourage and facilitate the process of reintegration into society for those with felony convictions – reintegration we know to reduce recidivism. We support and applaud those ongoing efforts and believe that an important step in that process is the restoration of voting rights to those who have completed their sentences. We ask our lawmakers to give Kentucky voters the opportunity to consider an amendment to the Constitution to restore voting rights to those who have completed their sentences and returned to active life in the community – and there’s no better time to do so than right now.
Jason D. Hall is the executive director of Catholic Conference of Kentucky, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Kentucky. Learn more at ccky.org.