Call to Order and Roll Call
The3rd meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Joe Bowen, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Joe Bowen, Co-Chair; Representative Darryl T. Owens, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins Jr., Ernie Harris, Christian McDaniel, Morgan McGarvey, Gerald A. Neal, R.J. Palmer II, Albert Robinson, and Damon Thayer; Representatives Kevin D. Bratcher, Joseph M. Fischer, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Mary Lou Marzian, and Bart Rowland.
Guests: Myrna Perez, Director, Voting Rights and Elections Project, and Deputy Director, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice–New York University School of Law; Raoul Cunningham, President, NAACP-Louisville Branch; Rev. Dean Bucalos, Kentucky Council of Churches, and Tayna Fogle, Kentucky Restoration of Voting Rights Coalition; Hans von Spakovsky, Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative–The Heritage Foundation, and James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk, and Elections Committee Chair, Kentucky County Clerk’s Association.
Approval of Minutes
The minutes of the September 24, 2013 meeting were approved without objection, upon motion by Representative Owens and second by Representative Rowland.
The meeting was chaired by both Senator Joe Bowen and Representative Darryl Owens.
Restoration of Voting Rights
The task force discussed the restoration of voting rights for certain convicted felons. Senator Gerald Neal gave an overview of two pre-filed bills for the 2014 Regular Session. Both bills propose amending the Kentucky Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons, but that the proposed amendment would not apply to all felonies. Voting rights would be restored only after a convicted felon has successfully completed all penalties.
Myrna Perez, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, stated that approximately 5.85 million felons cannot vote nationwide. Kentucky is one of only three states that completely bars voting for convicted felons, absent an executive pardon. A plurality of states has some form of automatic restoration of voting rights after the completion of a criminal sentence. Approximately one in ten African-Americans are unable to vote because of a felony and limited restoration policies. This number could rise as high as three in ten in the near future if laws are not amended to restore voting rights.
Ms. Perez stated that studies show that recidivism rates are lower in felon populations that have had their rights to vote restored. Voting is a pro-social act. The processes of observing time periods, waiting in lines, casting a ballot, and engaging in the elections process to achieve a result are law abiding exercises that are positive for a convicted felon rejoining society. Children largely learn to vote and participate in elections from their parents, and thus non-voting felons cannot pass along these lessons so that large numbers of children never have role models to emulate. The issue is not a partisan issue since politicians of both parties have supported the restoration of voting rights.
Several local advocates testified and discussed the impact of the permanent loss of voting rights for felons and the merits of restoring voting rights for these citizens. Raoul Cunningham said that one in 17 Kentuckians, and nearly one in five African-American Kentuckians, are denied the right to vote because of a felony. More than 128,000 felons have completed sentences but cannot vote, which is a population greater than all but three Kentucky counties. Reverend Dean Bucalos stated that restoring the right to vote allows these persons to participate, helps restore their dignity, and brings them into society by treating them the same as others in at least one respect. Tayna Fogle testified that, although she and others have been convicted of a felony, they are back in the community after their sentences are served and want to contribute.
Several members posed questions and voiced their opinions and concerns. A primary concern was that the task force had not heard from the law enforcement community on the issue, and it was suggested that members of the community be asked to provide input. Other members expressed their opinions that the pre-filed bills should get fair consideration in both chambers during the 2014 Regular Session.
Ms. Perez gave a PowerPoint presentation to accompany her testimony, a paper copy of which was distributed to the members at the meeting and is available in the Legislative Research Commission library.
Voter Identification Requirements
The task force also discussed voter identification requirements. Hans von Spakovsky of The Heritage Foundation advocated for Kentucky to adopt a stricter law that would require government-issued photo identification to vote. Mr. von Spakovsky stated that government issued photo identification requirements are an effective means of preventing voter impersonation and various other forms of vote fraud, and are thus a means of protecting the integrity of the ballot and the vote itself. Voting fraud exists and has a long history. He provided examples from court opinions, Congressional reports, and other historical accounts of fraud that has occurred nationally and in Kentucky. Mr. von Spakovsky gave the members details of a grand jury report that documented a 14 year scheme to commit voting fraud that involved both voter impersonation and ballots cast by fake voters. Kentucky is part of an interstate registration system that shows more than 14,000 registered Kentucky voters are registered to vote in other states.
Mr. von Spakovsky gave overview of the recent trend of states adopting photo identification requirements for voters and the legal challenges to several state laws. He stated that no facial challenge to any recent photo identification law has been successful. The challenges have largely failed because plaintiffs’ claims that the laws result in discriminatory disenfranchisement have not been supported by election data. For example, data produced in litigation in Indiana and Georgia have indicated the laws do not suppress voter registration or turnout, with several instances of higher rates occurring after the laws were passed. There have not been any successful “as applied” challenges because plaintiffs have not been able to produce any witnesses who could not get a required photo identification and vote. Every state that has passed a photo ID law has provided for a free form of identification. The United States is the only civilized, developed democracy that does not require photo identification to vote. Mexico, with a larger population in poverty than the United States, requires a photo ID with a thumbprint.
James Lewis, Leslie County Clerk and Elections Chair of the Kentucky County Clerk’s Association, stated that he supports additional voter identification requirements to assist poll workers statewide in confirming a voter’s identity. His association has not taken a formal position on the issue or conducted a poll of the clerks to gauge support, but the clerks have generally had a concern about the part of the current law that permits use of a credit card as an acceptable form of identification for a voter. He felt confident that a majority of the clerks would likely be in favor of a stricter law because they want the public to feel secure in the votes they cast, and because the clerks want to ensure there is as little opportunity for voter fraud as possible.
Several members voiced their opinions and concerns on the issue, with a primary concern that there was little evidence of impersonation fraud that would be prevented by a stricter voter identification requirement, a requirement that could also create barriers for some citizens to vote.
Mr. von Spakovsky submitted written testimony, a copy of which was distributed to the members at the meeting and can be found in the Legislative Research Commission library.
The business concluded, and the meeting was adjourned at 3:00 p.m.