Lawsuit to restore Voting Rights in Kentucky looking for additional plaintiffs

KFTC's primary strategy for restoring voting rights to Kentuckians with felonies in their past is to change Kentucky's Constitution to permanently grant the right to vote to all 312,000 Kentuckians who don't have the right to vote now. KFTC's Voting Rights Strategy Team, made up of directly effected people and other members from all over the state, decided additionally get involved in a lawsuit arguing that the current system is arbitrary and unconstitutional.

Our most immediate task is to find people who have lost their right to vote to join our list of plaintiffs for the case. 

If you do not have the right to vote because of felony disenfranchisement in Kentucky and you're off of probation and parole, and you'd like to join the lawuit as a plaintiff, please reach out to Dave Newton as soon as possible at Dave@kftc.org or 859-420-8919.  Our deadline to reach out to people to add them is Friday, January 25.

Below is the press release sent out by our allies about the case.

______

Civil rights groups take on lawsuit to restore felons' voting rights in Kentucky

KENTUCKY – Fair Elections Center and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center have joined a lawsuit challenging Kentucky's arbitrary process for voting rights restoration for felons. The lawsuit is brought on behalf of four felons.

Kentucky is one of three remaining states that deny the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration.  Just yesterday Florida dropped off that list when its voting rights restoration system became non-arbitrary by virtue of a recently passed state constitutional amendment. According to the Sentencing Project, as of 2016, Kentucky had an estimated 242,987 felons who were still disenfranchised after completing their full sentences including parole and probation, or 9.14% of the state's voting-age population.

"With Florida adopting a non-arbitrary voting rights restoration system, Kentucky is fighting an increasingly lonely battle to preserve a 19th century system that forces American citizens to plead for restoration of their voting rights," said Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel at Fair Elections Center.  "This lawsuit gives state officials and legislators an opportunity to reform a broken and unconstitutional system which excludes hundreds of thousands of people from our democracy, even if they have already done everything the criminal justice system required of them."

Kentucky's voting rights restoration process requires felons who have completed their full sentences to submit an application for restoration to the Department of Corrections' Division of Probation and Parole. The Division screens the applications and forwards them to the governor who has unconstrained power to grant or deny restoration with no rules, laws, or criteria governing these determinations.

Without any rules, felons are subjected to arbitrary decision-making and the risk of biased treatment, violating the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the lawsuit.

"The right to vote is a fundamental right, probably the most fundamental right. Courts have been very clear: fundamental rights cannot be subject to the arbitrary whims of government officials. Kentucky's arbitrary system now excludes 9% of eligible voters because of a felony conviction, even after they've paid their debt to society in full. We aim to fix this injustice with this lawsuit," said Ben Carter, Senior Counsel at the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

The process also lacks any time limits for when the Department of Corrections or the governor must take action. This delay has created a backlog of applications in Kentucky. As of March 2018, there was a backlog of 1,459 restoration of civil rights applications.

"I initially brought the lawsuit because I believe in the Constitution. My family fought for those rights; my ninth-generation grandfather fought in the American Revolution. He would be turning over in his grave if he knew my right to vote was at the mercy of a government official," said plaintiff in the case, Deric Lostutter.

"If people take responsibility for their mistakes and complete their sentences, they shouldn't have to beg the government to regain their right to vote as American citizens," said Stephon Harbin, another plaintiff in the case.

Kentucky's arbitrary rights restoration process violates the U.S. Constitution and hinders people who have done their time, including parole and probation, from truly reentering society. To remedy this violation, the lawsuit asks the court to order the state to establish a non-arbitrary system for rights restoration with specific and neutral criteria for all Kentuckians with felony convictions.

Issue Area(s):