Thursday, October 28, 2004

Fletcher's way to restore voting rights criticized

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Since Gov. Ernie Fletcher changed requirements for felons to have their voting rights restored, 214 applications have been approved, the governor's general counsel said.

However, a group opposing Fletcher's changes said Wednesday that the administration was effectively suppressing votes with its new rules.

Heather Roe Mahoney, of the Democracy Resource Center in Lexington, claimed the administration's new policy was preventing more than 700 felons from voting in next week's election.

"This is an injustice," Mahoney said. "It is an assault on our democracy."

Under the new requirements, implemented in June, Fletcher's administration requires felons to supply three character references and an explanation why their voting rights should be reinstated.

Fletcher's general counsel, John Roach, said the new policy was not overly burdensome and ensures that only people who have fulfilled their sentences and paid restitution are allowed to vote.

"This is a process that allows the people that truly deserve to have their civil rights restored, restored," Roach said. "But it also allows us to actually make sure that they're worthy of having their civil rights restored."

The state constitution leaves it up to the governor to reinstate people's voting rights after they are convicted of felonies.

Former Gov. Paul Patton's policy was to approve applications, provided that applicants completed their sentences and made full restitution. Felons had to apply for reinstatement, then parole officers would verify the sentences were completed. Local prosecutors also were given an opportunity to object.

Now, applicants have to submit references and the written explanation after their initial applications. That information is forwarded to prosecutors for their opinion.

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