Clarifying who can vote and who can't in Kentucky

gIMG_5084To register and vote in Kentucky, one needs to be at least 18 years old by Election Day (Tuesday, November 6), you have to live in Kentucky (temporary student housing works), and you have to be a U.S. citizen.

Those are the basics, but things get a little trickier in Kentucky because our criminal justice system plays an unusual role in taking away people's right to vote.

People with felonies in their past –  Can't (generally) Vote.

Kentucky disenfranchises people with felonies in their past and is harsher than almost any state in the US in that regard.  People can request their rights be restored after they've served their time through this form, but few people know about the process and Governor Bevin denies many requests.  People who have had their record expunged of felonies can also vote.  KFTC's long-term goal is to change Kentucky's Constitution so that people get the right to vote back when they've served their debt to society including prison time, probation, and parole, but for now, this remains a barrier for over 312,000 Kentuckians.

People with misdemeanors in their past – Can Vote!

If someone has a misdemeanor in ther past, that doesn't stop them from voting in Kentucky.  Many people in this situation may have been told that they can't register and vote, but they absolutely can

People currently in jail serving for a misdemeanor – Can't Vote

This disenfranchisement comes from section 145 of the Kentucky Constitution along with felony disenfranchisement.

People serving probation and parole for a misdemeanor – Can Vote!

Even though you're still serving your time, there's nothing stopping you from registering and voting in this case.

People in jails pre-trial who were charged with either a felony or a misdemeanor – Can Vote!

If you're in jail because you're awaiting trial or sentencing for any offense (and you've never been convicted of a felony), you do have the right to vote.  That's a big deal, because in many Kentucky jails about 70% of the population is pre-trial.


Whereas pre-trial folks in the jails can legally vote absentee and we can help them, the logistics of that are tricky.

To vote absentee, there are a lot of hoops to jump through for anyone:20180908_113050(0)

  • You have to be registered to vote and you have to know what county you're registered in.  Alternately, in this case, you can register at the jail, but then that's an extra step.
  • You have to make the request by phone, email, or fax to the County Clerk where you're registered now for an absentee ballot and you have to give a legally recognized reason such as:
    • Advanced in age, disabled, or ill
    • Military personnel, their Dependents, or Overseas Citizens
    • A student who temporarily resides outside the county
    • A voter who temporarily resides outside of Kentucky and who maintains eligibility to vote in Kentucky, such as a "snowbird"
    • Incarcerated, but not yet convicted of a crime
    • (or a few other conditions)
  • The clerk will then check your name against the voter file and will mail you a formal application for an absentee ballot.
  • You'll fill out that application and return by mail, and the Clerk's office will have to receive it by Oct 30th, 2018 for it to be valid.
  • The clerk will then send you an absentee ballot, which you'll have to receive, fill out, and mail back and the clerk will have to receive by 6pm on Election Day.


That's a lot of mailing and back-and-forth, so keep that in mind when talking to people who say they're going to vote absentee.

To complicate matters a little more, jails have some restrictions of what people can get in the mail that might be challenging to navagate, and it's not automatic that we'll be able to gain access to jails to register people or help them through the process.

But it's not legal to disenfranchise people in jails who are pre-trial and it's a misdemeanor to prevent someone from registering to vote, so we have the law on our side.

With all of this in mind, know that some KFTC chapters are reaching out to their local jails to help make sure people awaiting trial can register and vote.  Please contact Alex@kftc.org Dave@kftc.org Jessicawells@kftc.org or Sasha@kftc.org if that sounds like something you'd like to get involved in. 

The voter registration deadline in Kentucky is Oct 9, 2018. 

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