Voting Rights

New Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights to 140,000 Nonviolent Felons

Meanwhile, outgoing Gov. Matt Bevin made some controversial pardon choices as he headed for the door.

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About 140,000 Kentucky residents who have served time for felonies but completed their sentences have had their voting rights restored en masse by the state's new governor.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin in November, signed an executive order Thursday restoring the voting rights of felons who had committed nonviolent felonies within the state and had permanently lost the right to vote under Kentucky's extremely strict laws.

Beshear's executive order has a complicated history. Preceding Bevin as governor was Beshear's father, Steve Beshear, also a Democrat. Before leaving office in 2015, the elder Beshear signed a similar executive order to restore voting, jury service, and occupational licensing rights to felons who had completed their sentences. Under Kentucky law, these people could individually petition the governor to get these rights back. Steve Beshear made the process automatic for those who qualified.

But when Bevin came into office, he overturned Steve Beshear's executive order. Bevin said he didn't object to an automatic restoration of felons' rights, but he argued that it was an overstep of a governor's power to issue a blanket order without changing the law.

But the laws didn't change, and now Andy Beshear is reversing Bevin's reversal. He did urge the legislature to change the law as well, but he's going to use this process in the meantime. As a result, Iowa is now the only state left that strips all felons of the right to vote.

I don't think enough attention is being paid to the fact that this doesn't actually change the law. The next governor can do what Bevin did and shut the practice down, putting Kentucky felons in the same boat as Iowa felons. In fact, that's exactly what happened in Iowa: A Democratic governor signed an order restoring rights to some felons, only to see a successor revoke it.

Rights granted via executive order can be taken away just as quickly. Maybe take the opportunity to actually change the law.

Bevin, meanwhile, engaged in some last-minute mercy that has stirred outrage rather than celebration. In his final days in office, Bevin issued 428 pardons, but some of his choices seem utterly baffling and have left many angry. He pardoned a man sentenced to 23 years in prison for raping a 9-year-old child. The man had served only 18 months. In his pardon letter, Bevin said he did not believe the victim's testimony. Bevin also pardoned a man serving time for reckless homicide, robbery, impersonating a police officer, and tampering with evidence. The man's family had held a fundraiser to help Bevin raise money to retire the debt from his original gubernatorial campaign. He had served two years of a 19-year sentence. His co-defendants did not receive pardons and will remain behind bars.

On the brighter side, Bevin commuted the death sentence of Gregory Wilson, who was on death row as the result of a mockery of a trial: Wilson had pretty much no defense attorney, a co-defendant who testified against him was having sex with a judge, and a federal appeals judge subsequently described the circus as "one of the worst examples I have ever seen of the unfairness and abysmal lawyering that pervade capital trials."

Bevin also pardoned a pair of Louisville community activists, one of whom who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, who had served time for drug trafficking crimes. Both were already free, but one of them noted that her previous convictions meant she couldn't go on her children's field trips or get student loans and had a harder time getting jobs and life insurance.

So it was a complicated batch of pardons. Some of them may be indefensible, but others were clearly intended to help people who were no danger to society.

Update: On Friday evening, Bevin released a series of tweets explaining his process for his pardons, adding, "The myriad statements and suggestions that financial or political considerations played a part in the decision making process, are both highly offensive and entirely false." The thread starts with this tweet:

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  1. People want massive prison reform without regard for how dangerous some of these people are? They’re gonna get it good and hard.

    With that being said, there should be less criminal laws and drugs prohibitions should be repealed. That would be a prison reform that helps people and taxpayers.

    1. Well said (out of both sides of your mouth).

      1. Wait I thought Reason was against all dictators edicts. So why is it you are not railing against Andy Beshear dictating what appears to be a violation of Kentucky law?
        Why did you choose to fold it in with an
        despicable act by someone else?
        One has nothing to do with the other.

        1. Must be that both are related to click generation

        2. Agree. A Governor (or President) should only be given power to issue executive orders that conflict with existing law when there is an emergency that necessitates it. Just because you don’t like an existing law should not be reason enough to unilaterally change it.

    2. Note to foreign readers: one hurdle for republicans infiltrating LP fora under fake names is grammar. You know, but Creation Science failed to teach them, that “fewer” applies to things that can be counted, such as laws. “Less” is used for quantities measured by volume, weight, or other units–things like sugar or time. Fewer cruel laws result in lower taxes and less prison time would be how an educated libertarian forms a sentence.

      1. Note to readers. Reason staff sock trolls like to use socialism as the grammar nazis to try to undermine criticisms and simultaneously boost web traffic.

        Because reason staff are whores who choose principals over principles.

        Less than < reason staff can handle when their American English is so shitty.

    3. The only one disregarding how dangerous the people are he’s letting out of prison is the Republican guy pardoning child rapists and murderers because they donated to his campaign.

    4. Last time I checked, most folks talking about prison/criminal justice reform were distinguishing between violent crimes, property crimes, and victimless crimes.

  2. Good.

    #FelonsAreNaturalLibertarians

  3. Rights granted via executive order can be taken away just as quickly.

    Well, then, they aren’t exactly ‘rights’ are they?

    1. Just wait until we revert to monarchy.

    2. Welcome to the argument that “natural rights” are a sophistic sham.

  4. “He pardoned a man sentenced to 23 years in prison for raping a 9-year-old child. The man had served only 18 months. In his pardon letter, Bevin said he did not believe the victim’s testimony.”

    Well, was the guy guilty or not?

    1. Not a lot of discussion of the actual evidence in the articles I saw…just a quick quote from the gov that he didn’t believe the evidence, then much more extensive quotes from the prosecutor being outraged.

      Here is a case of the clemency power wielded on behalf of someone where there allegedly was inadequate evidence. Shouldn’t Reason take some interest in whether the evidence was in fact sufficient?

      To be sure, second-guessing a jury’s verdict is a big deal, but it’s not unheard of.

      All I could figure from the indignant articles was that they had the testimony of the child and of medical experts who talked to the child – I don’t think there was physical evidence. Should that be enough for the governor, or not?

      Couldn’t the indignation-mongering “journalists” actually look into the case and see if the governor released a guilty guy or protected an innocent one, or if the evidence was just too skimpy?

      1. I’m guessing, being Kentucky, that “41-year-old Micah Schoettle” might not see his 42nd birthday. A little street justice?

      2. The big child care rape cult scare of the 90s is long forgotten. I know nothing of this case, but we are back to not ever needing evidence.

      3. Here’s a story from the time the guy was convicted. Several paragraphs are literally taken from the prosecution’s press release.

        https://www.nkytribune.com/2018/08/kenton-county-man-gets-23-years-for-multiple-offenses-including-rape-sexual-assault-of-a-minor/

        It seems they boasted of this being a trailblazing case – the alleged victim delayed reporting the crime, so the court allowed them to put forward medical experts explaining why victims delay reporting.

        Based on what appears to basically be the prosecutor’s version, they had the girl’s testimony and other witnesses suggesting she was credible, but no physical evidence corroborating the girl’s story.

        So I don’t know if he’s guilty, but it was a child witness plus various grownups testifying that the child was believable, but nothing to corroborate the child’s account of the alleged crime itself.

        1. There is no mercy for perverts in this country. Putting a man in jail based on testimony alone is madness. I don’t care how many toddlers they claim this guy raped. I need evidence if you want to cage a man for over two decades.

          1. There may have been some good reason for the jury to believe the child, but the news accounts I read simply quote from the prosecutor’s outraged press releases, and prosecutor press releases should be of little weight to good reporters except for what they inadvertently admit.

  5. Felons who have had their voting rights restored tend to vote democrat at higher numbers. This order obviously benefits Beshear personally. I will wait patiently for his impeachment.

    1. In most of the country sure. But KY is a demographically different state than the others. Especially the eastern part.

    2. Did he shake down a foreign country at some point in this cute little false equivalence?

      How does it feel suckling at the teat of power all day every day and pretending to be a libertarian? Does it feel a bit like sizzling?

  6. Governor Andy lol

    so what’s the effect of the seventeen guys who’ll end up voting?

    1. If they seek revenge by voting libertarian, their votes will pack the law-changing clout of roughly 357 votes wasted on either half of the looter kleptocracy. In 1972 this ratio was about 10,000 to 1 in deciding Roe v Wade. And from the mercantilist 1880s through the progression into fascism, that ratio was about 25 to 1 in favor of communist, prohibition and socialist parties. As Friedman showed, those coercive altruists seldom got 2%, but changed the laws as though they had gotten 52% of the vote, hence a spoiler clout effectiveness leverage ration of about 25. Since 1972 only timidity and the Nixon subsidies have held us back.

  7. And their gun rights? Asking for a woke friend.

  8. Bevin said he didn’t object to an automatic restoration of felons’ rights, but he argued that it was an overstep of a governor’s power to issue a blanket order without changing the law.

    I suspect Bevin is correct here.

    But the laws didn’t change, and now Andy Beshear is reversing Bevin’s reversal. He did urge the legislature to change the law as well, but he’s going to use this process in the meantime.

    What good is a pen and a phone if you don’t use them?

    Bevin issued 428 pardons, but some of his choices seem utterly baffling and have left many angry. He pardoned a man sentenced to 23 years in prison for raping a 9-year-old child. The man had served only 18 months. In his pardon letter, Bevin said he did not believe the victim’s testimony.

    Bevin too, has a pen and a phone.

  9. I’m curious about something here. Why are only non-violent felons having their rights restored? Are we saying that violent felons haven’t paid their dues to society after release, and that only non-violent felons have paid those dues?

    It really doesn’t make much sense, even while it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    1. what slope is more fun than a slippery one?

    2. That is a very good point. A felon’s debt to society should not be everlasting. It should have an endpoint.

      1. Unless he is a white male.

      2. Is that how Canada does it?

    3. We are afraid that violent offenders might vote for Republicans

    4. Since the American prison system turns normal people desperate, violent, and cruel out of sheer necessity, we can’t very well let them out once they’re in.

    5. Non-violent offenders are more sympathetic then violent offenders.

  10. “”Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin in November, signed an executive order Thursday restoring the voting rights of felons who had committed nonviolent felonies within the state and had permanently lost the right to vote under Kentucky’s extremely strict laws.””

    Can he do this by EO? If the right is lost by law, then I would think the lawmakers would have to undo it.

    It would be a shame for people to get excited about it only to have it shot down in a court.

    1. I see that was discussed a bit.

  11. As the wall goes up the Dems must mine votes somewhere.

    1. There’s the call for another meeting of Libertarians For Voter Suppression.

      Carry on, clingers.

    2. Trump has single-handedly convinced 30% of the country that we are living in a pre-airplane, pre-computer society.

  12. It’s called buying votes. By putting citizens at risk.

  13. I’m all for Governors and Presidents having pardon powers, except of course if they try to pardon themselves or conspirators in a crime. Mistakes will be made, and the mention of the crime involving the 9 year old is disturbing, but I don’t know that whole story so I am not going to second guess someone’s decision based on a blurb.

    We should invest each branch in more powers to repeal laws, negate prosecution, and so to provide liberty. I think we should allow either chamber of congress repeal a law. Of course, that is not going to happen anytime soon. That proposal comes from “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.

    1. Our current legislature can ‘repeal’ any law by passing a law saying so. As I recall, the Professor was suggesting a third unit of the legislature, that could ONLY repeal laws; and by a 1/3 vote.

  14. As of March 2, 1929, a felon was anyone convicted of having a six-pack of light beer of gallon of watery wine. Asset-forfeiture took their car, bank account, home and whatnot for the fine worth $600,000 in today’s paper money. When Nixon beat Wallace a thimbleful of hemp seeds or roots was a felony easily good for two years in the slammer plus a faith-based fine and asset forfeiture, stripping away of rights and application of the Scarlet Letter of Enemy of the People for life. The changes you see around you? Those are the result of LP spoiler vote clout. Remember that next time you are NOT shot, beaten, robbed, arrested and branded for peaceful enjoyment. Then vote.

  15. Allowing non-violent felons to vote?
    What next?
    Give them due process?
    What’s America coming to?

    1. Gun rights will be restored too?

      This is a ploy to buy votes but good policy notwithstanding.

      It wont save the Democrat Party from fading from national politics.

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