Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

February 20, 2014

Sniping over felons’ rights should be left to voters

Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — With the exception of those who commit particularly heinous crimes, should voting rights be restored for a convicted felon once he or she completes her punishment?

It’s a simple question with two possible answers: yes or no. But in Kentucky, which remains one of the most restrictive states in the country in regard to felons’ voting rights, actually allowing voters to weigh in on such a concept is apparently too …

Too what, exactly? Too easy? Too dangerous? Too likely to alter the political playing field?

It’s disappointing that the progress of a proposed constitutional amendment regarding the issue was, at least temporarily, stymied this week by political maneuvers in Frankfort. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican from Georgetown, injected changes Wednesday – including a five-year post-sentence waiting period – that muddied the straightforward, House-approved House Bill 70, which essentially would automatically restore voting rights for most felons once their sentences are complete.

The Senate passed Thayer’s amended bill 34-4 to the dismay of the House, which had passed its version 88-12. Now the bill returns to the House, which is disinclined to endorse Thayer’s adjustments.

Some might argue that the General Assembly has bigger fish to fry than determining whether criminals have access to the polls. We agree – which is why, if the issue must be decided by anyone, it should be the voters, not legislators. Instead, our lawmakers are engaged in a debate about how to frame the debate, which achieves nothing.

If Kentuckians feel that it is time to consider felons’ voting rights, then it seems to us that the question should be posed as cleanly and as clearly as possible. We have no idea what Thayer’s five-year waiting period accomplishes, other than gumming up the legislative process and making the question more difficult for voters to answer.

If that was Thayer’s plan, then it succeeded beautifully. The result, however, is hardly a beautiful display of democracy.