The5th meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Monday, November 19, 2007, at 1:00 PM, at the Urban League in Louisville. Representative Darryl T. Owens, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Guests: Tenna Halbig, League of Women Voters of Louisville; Ed Monahan and Mitchell Ford, Catholic Conference of Kentucky; David Stengel, Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney; Raoul Cunningham, NAACP; and Sarah Ball Johnson, State Board of Elections.
LRC Staff: Judy Fritz, Bill VanArsdall, Terisa Roland.
Chairman Owens welcomed everyone to the meeting in Louisville and thanked Ben Richardmon and Anita McGruder for the facility at the Urban League. The minutes of the October 23, 2007 meeting were approved without objection.
Chairman Owens discussed the act relating to the restoration of voting rights to convicted felons. He stated regrets from Representative Crenshaw who co-sponsored BR 194, who was unable to attend the meeting. BR 194 would restore the voting rights to some convicted felons. Felons who were convicted of a felony that included as an element of the offense, -- the intentional killing of a human being, sexual conduct with a minor, or deviant sexual intercourse would have their voting rights restored only through executive pardon. Persons convicted of any other felony would not have their voting rights restored until probation had been completed, a final discharge from parole, or maximum expiration of sentence. These persons could also have their voting rights restored by executive pardon.
Chairman Owens introduced Ms. Tenna Halbig of the League of Women Voters. She handed out a copy of a study available on their website www.lwvky.org. She discussed the study and stated that Kentucky possesses the highest African American disenfranchisement rate in the country. Also 31% of the total Kentucky prison population is African American. The League recommended having a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow Kentucky voters to decide whether felons who live in the community and have completed their sentences should have their voting rights restored automatically. The League also wants to simplify the process and encourage eligible people to vote. She said the League also supports assistance to those incarcerated, perhaps three months before they are released regarding voter registration. Increasing public education through the Secretary of State's office, the Department of Corrections, and the Administrative Office of the Courts, are also suggestions from the League. Lastly, she stated the League favors tracking and publishing the figures regarding the number of persons affected by this bill. She said the League's consensus is that we support the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons upon completion of their sentence or discharge from parole.
Ed Monahan, Mr. Mitchell Ford, Mr. Lee Thompson, and Toma Fogle represented the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. Mr. Monahan discussed their support for the bill. He said America 's symbol of justice is a blindfolded woman, and that God's justice is not blind, it is imbued with mercy. He urged enthusiastic support for this measure. He introduced Mr. Mitchell Ford, from PAR, People Advocating Recovery. Mr. Ford discussed how important it is to him to have his voting rights restored and to do the right thing in life. He said that he had served a six year jail sentence and deserved every bit of that, but he believes he has paid his debt to society, has a full time job, pays taxes, to his community. He said there are 130,000 people in Kentucky who cannot vote, and that if legislature restored their right to vote, that could change people. Tom Fogle with the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, People Advocating Recovery and a former felon also spoke. She said that her right to vote had been restored. She stated she had to go before both Governor Patton and Governor Fletcher, to get character references, and then her rights were restored. She now gives back to the community by working within the prisons. Mr. Monahan read a letter from Mr. Thompson, also a convicted felon who served out his sentence. He also endorsed the support to rein store voting rights. A copy of his letter and resolution are available to all members.
Mr. Dave Stengel, Commonwealth Attorney spoke regarding the restoration of voting rights. He discussed being a prosecutor overseeing the prosecution of over 4,000 felony indictments a year. The Commonwealth Attorneys as a whole do not oppose this in principal, they are waiting to see what the final bill looks like.
Mr. Raoul Cunningham, President of the Louisville Chapter of NAACP thanked the committee for allowing them to testify. Felons have been barred from voting in Kentucky since the Commonwealth's admission into the Union and it's adoption of the first constitution in 1792. Under the provision's of the 2nd constitution 1,799, negroes, mulattos, and Indians, along with felons and women were denied the right to vote. The disenfranchisement of felons has a long history in English, European, and Roman law to American law. He said this constitutional barrier has had a direct negative impact on many lives across Kentucky including African Americans.
Georgia Powers, formerly a member of the Kentucky Senate stated this constitutional amendment would not be easy to pass. She asked everyone to encourage their colleagues to vote for the amendment.
The Executive Director of the State Board of Elections spoke regarding the outcome of the last election concerning provisional ballots. She expressed Secretary Greyson's regret at not being able to attend the meeting. He was out of state and could not make the meeting. The 2007 General Election went very smoothly as a whole, and the transition from old to new machines, equipment, and new people went very well. She also said several counties experimented with raising fees for poll workers this year. She said there are always shortages of workers on the day of election. The minimum fee is $60, which is way below minimum wage and some rural counties still pay this amount. Some counties pay more than the minimum. She discussed the new machines and the concerns of some of the voters.
Ms. Johnson also discussed provisional voting in Kentucky. There were some press releases prior to election day concerning provisional ballots. She said this is a very complex issue that was required by Help the America Vote Act. Kentucky's rules and regulations regarding provisional ballots were adopted through an emergency regular ion in November and December, 2003. Governor Patton signed the emergency regulation and Secretary John Brown put the guidelines into place. The provisional ballot, being a federal law, applies only to federal elections. The Kentucky Constitution says that a person does have to be in their right precinct in order to have their vote counted. The Help America Vote Act State Plan Committee, another federal requirement, is a coalition of both state parties. She stated that Representative Owens serves on the committee along with a representative of the Transportation Cabinet, with a total of 20 members on the committee. This committee had discussions about how provisional balloting would be handled in Kentucky, and it was determined that provisional ballots are to be a last resort ballot, and that there should be very few cases where they are issued.
Mike Berry, President of PAR (People Advocating Recovery) asked to speak. He said that it is PAR's desire to remove the stigma of discrimination from people who are in long term recovery. He stated he was a person in long term recovery and that he had not used drugs/alcohol for almost 14 years. He said he represented a large portion of people who have felony convictions. He said that PAR has 1,000 members with six chapters across the state. PAR also has members on the Board of Rights Coalition and will be working in Frankfort during the next coming Session. He stated that they support this bill and ask the members of the committee to think about their vote. He said many people have turned their lives around and there is no better way to make them a part of society than to restore their right to vote.
Business was concluded. There would be no more meetings in 2007.