By Andrew Hebert–
Cherie Dawson-Edwards enlightened the Chao Auditorium on the history and controversies behind disenfranchisement in the state of Kentucky and the US. Her talk, titled “Disrupting Democracy: Felony Disenfranchisement in the ‘Smart on Crime’ Era,” went through various ways disenfranchisement has been practiced throughout the United States and how it affects politics in Kentucky.
Disenfranchisement is the taking away of someone’s right to vote based on crimes committed. Kentucky was the first state to entertain the idea of disenfranchisement for criminals, putting it in the first state constitution in 1791. Since, the only two states that do not practice any form of felon disenfranchisement are Maine and Vermont.
Former governor Steve Beshear granted pardons at the end of his term, but Governor Matt Bevin immediately repealed these pardons, saying it was a decision for the legislative branch to make. Dawson-Edwards was shocked by this decision.
“There has been a lot of bipartisan support for people who have completed their sentences to return to full citizenship, so Governor Bevin’s decision surprised me,” Dawson-Edwards said.
Dawson-Edwards’ research showed one in five black males and one in 14 Kentuckians overall are disenfranchised. Close to three-fourths of the disenfranchised felons in Kentucky have completed their entire sentence.
“Other researchers found that Mitch McConnell would have most likely lost his original senate campaign (1984) had ex-felons been able to vote,” Dawson-Edwards said, showing the extent of situation.
The Kentucky General Assembly has proposed a constitutional amendment to felon disenfranchisement every year since 2010, but the amendment usually fades out in the committee phase. A change to the state constitution would require three-fourths vote from both the house and senate, so a change is highly unlikely.
“56 percent of Kentuckians say they would support voting rights for most felons who have served their entire sentence” said Dawson-Edwards.
Bridgette Hildreth, a student who has attended multiple talks in the “Crime & Punishment” discussion series at U of L, enjoyed the talk.
“This lecture was my favorite because Dr. Dawson-Edwards was very enthusiastic as well as specific about her topic. She did a great job of engaging the audience about disenfranchisement.”