Kentucky’s Attorney General Argues For Mandatory Expungement Fees Thursday, May 27 2021 

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is wading into a precedent-setting legal battle to determine if the fees associated with expunging a criminal record can be waived for people who can’t afford them.

Frederick Jones, a 56-year old Louisville man, sought a waiver in 2018 for a then-$500 fee to clear a decades old felony theft charge from his record. A Jefferson Circuit court ruled he had to pay. And when the Kentucky Supreme Court takes up the case, Cameron will be advocating for that ruling to be upheld.

In doing so, the court would set a standard that anyone wanting a felony expungement must pay fees, currently set at $300. Criminal justice reform advocates and voting rights activists say that will impede access to expungement, a process needed for many people with criminal convictions who want to reclaim their right to vote, bear arms, participate in their kids’ school activities and get jobs.

Since July 2016, more than 3,200 people in Kentucky have utilized expungement, according to a report from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.

When then-Attorney General Andy Beshear, a Democrat, was involved with the case in 2018, he effectively said in a brief that the state had no dog in the fight, and took no position.

Now, as the case sits before the state’s Supreme Court, Republican Cameron is taking a stance opposing fee-free expungement for indigent people, a position his office says is based on his interpretation of state law. 

“We believed it was important to weigh in,” said Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokesperson for Cameron, in an emailed statement. “This case has nothing to do with politics. The question is not a policy one, but a legal one, and it’s the Attorney General’s job to defend the law as passed by the General Assembly.”

 In a brief filed with the court last month, Cameron argued that an expungement is a privilege and so there must be a fee.

Under state law, the fees are collected into an “expungement fund” that is divided among the courts, state police, prosecutors, and the state’s Department for Libraries and Archives.

“The whole purpose of [the expungement law] will be frustrated if the agencies tasked with expunging felony records are impeded by a lack of funding,” Cameron argued.

Voting rights advocates say the purpose of the law is not to collect revenue but instead provide people a process for regaining their constitutional rights. Frustrating fees highlight the privilege of decision-makers, said Kat Calvin, founder of the California-based nonprofit voting rights organization Spread the Vote.

She likened the costs to a poll tax.

“It’s just one of the many, many, many ways that we ensure that if you ever make a mistake in this country, you are punished for it forever,” Calvin said.  

It’s far more noble to protect and encourage a person’s ability to fully reintegrate into society, Calvin said, than to generate revenue for the state’s budget, which estimates bringing in $10.8 million from court costs in 2022.  

Who Gets To Vote

Regaining the right to vote is a key benefit of the state’s expungement law. Kentucky is one of just a few states to issue lifetime voting bans for people convicted of felonies, and the state’s disenfranchisement rate is one of the nation’s highest, according to the report from the local League of Women Voters group.

More than 197,000 Kentuckians are considered disenfranchised due to a past felony conviction, according to the League of Women Voters report. Nearly 39,000 Black voters are disenfranchised, about 15% of the total Black voting-age population, a rate that’s more than twice the national average according to the report.

“It’s a disgrace,” said Corey Shapiro, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

Mandating a fee sends a message that if you’re poor, then you cannot participate in our democracy, Shapiro said.

“Do we as a Commonwealth believe the right to vote is a core fundamental right, that people deserve that… if they can afford the fee or not?” he asked. 

Politics must also be considered, said Dewey Clayton, a professor in the University of Louisville’s department of political science. He says Cameron’s position in this case could be perceived as a political play with lasting impacts, even if it’s not the intent.

Republican lawmakers and officials across the nation are pushing — often successfully — to restrict voting access. In Kentucky, state leaders drew acclaim last year for passing bipartisan legislation that expanded voting access by, most notably, cementing an in-person early voting process, providing secure drop-boxes and the ability to request an absentee ballot online. 

Calvin, the voting rights advocate, said politics shouldn’t play a role —  but it is politicians that decide who gets to vote.

“Unfortunately, that’s the reality.”

Attorneys Battle It Out In Briefs

Jones’s case goes back to a 2018 ruling by Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Audra J. Eckerle, who denied his request to waive the then-$500 expungement costs due to his inability to pay. Jones, who declined an interview request, argued that he should be covered by state law allowing waivers for people unable to pay court fees.

But the judge said that the state expungement law doesn’t address fee waivers, and that her hands were tied.

“[Jones’] remedy more appropriately lies with the legislature that enacted the mandatory fee without specifying a waiver mechanism,” Eckerle wrote in her order denying his request to waive the fee.

Jones appealed the judge’s decision to the Kentucky Appeals Court, but the outcome didn’t change. 

“Expungement is not a right but a statutory privilege – a privilege the General Assembly has no obligation to provide at all, and which it may therefore provide subject to conditions that our Courts are not at liberty to ignore,” the judges said in the majority opinion.

Jones’s attorneys disagree. 

A state law known as the in forma pauperis statute allows people “to file or defend any action or appeal therein without paying costs.” An expungement should be considered a court action, which would therefore qualify the fees associated with an expungement to be waived, said Michael Abate, an attorney representing Jones. (Abate has represented KyCIR in some legal issues.)

Legislators did not need to specify that the fees could be waived because the statute allowing the waiver of fees for poor people already existed, Abate said.

“There is simply no basis to assume, as the Court of Appeals did, that the General Assembly intended the expungement law to silently overrule the [in forma pauperis] statute,” Abate wrote in their brief filed with the Supreme Court.

The attorney general argued otherwise — that there is no “fundamental right” to expungement. Instead, Cameron said it is a product of “legislative grace.” Since legislators did not explicitly state the fees can be waived, he said, they must be considered unquestionably mandatory. 

But Republican state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, the sponsor of recent expungement legislation, said  that was not his intent.

“It’s common practice in Kentucky that if a defendant cannot pay a fee, a judge has a discretion to waive it,” Higdon said in a 2019 interview with KyCIR. “If I wanted to block them from getting a fee waived, I would have put wording in there to block it.”

One thing all sides agree on is that Jones did, in fact, qualify as indigent under state law when he sought the waiver in 2018. At the time, he was earning less than $1,000 monthly.

Since his case began, the costs for obtaining a felony expungement have dropped to $300, according to state law, plus a $40 certification fee required by the Kentucky State Police. Gov. Andy Beshear also issued an executive order days after assuming office in 2019 that automatically restored the rights for about 178,000 people convicted of non-violent crimes.

But Jones wasn’t one of them.

And an executive order isn’t a permanent fix, said Shapiro, with the ACLU.

“People who cannot pay should not have to pay to have their voting rights restored,” he said. “That is unacceptable and it should not be a way that we treat people who live in our commonwealth.”

The post Kentucky’s Attorney General Argues For Mandatory Expungement Fees appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Biden elected 46th U.S. President, U of L students react Tuesday, Nov 10 2020 

By Catherine Brown-

After several days of counting votes, Joe Biden will become the 46th President of the United States. As expected, student voters at U of L have mixed reactions about the results.

For four days, voters anticipated election results from swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada that managed to put Biden in the lead.

Once all the ballots were counted, including those sent by mail, the remaining states, including Pennsylvania and Nevada, were finally called in Biden’s favor. As of Nov. 10, Biden holds 290 electoral votes, while Trump has 214. 

North Carolina, Georgia and Alaska have yet to be called, but it’s impossible for Trump to make up the missing electoral votes.

“I’m ecstatic that Biden has won the election. I can not wait to protest against him the second he’s inaugurated,” Lorenzo Rowan, a sophomore who voted for Biden said. “I plan to hold him to account on every policy he has proposed to help improve the lives of working people.”

Ian McCall, a sophomore, voted for Trump. 

“I’m not surprised by the outcome in the presidential race,” McCall said. “Trump won his first term because he appealed to people’s worries about the economy.”

McCall said that in the case of a divided Congress, “The government can get back to doing what it does best. Nothing.”

Christopher Borick, a professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, found that supporters for Biden were less enthusiastic about his candidacy than supporters for Trump, with only 49% of Biden voters showing enthusiastic support compared to 82% for Trump.

“Joe Biden is not the darling of voters,” Borick said. “In the end, there was enough enthusiasm against Trump that even if people weren’t in love with Joe Biden, they certainly were able to vote for him.”

According to a telephone interview of 419 likely voters in Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates for Congress are preferred over their Republican opponents. 

The same interview, conducted by researchers at Muhlenberg College, found that top issues concerning voters in Pennsylvania were the economy, healthcare and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hilary Beaumont, a writer for Aljazeera, attributes Biden’s win to a combination of factors including Biden’s appeal to the white working-class voters who were disappointed by Trump. Beaumont claims that Biden managed to appeal to suburban voters in Pennsylvania districts previously upset by Hillary Clinton in 2016.  

Additionally, Biden has roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which helped him lead in Lackawanna County.

The Trump administration announced that it would file lawsuits in states with a slim Democratic lead, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan. The lawsuits were sent to state and federal courts in these states to either stop counting mail-in ballots or recount the ballots.

Law officials say a recount is unlikely to change the results of the states involved.

Let’s see what the next four years have to offer.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Make your vote count in the presidential elections Wednesday, Oct 28 2020 

By Catherine Brown–

Presidential elections are less than one month away. Get out and vote like your future depends on it—because it does.

This election cycle has been called “the most important election of our lifetimes” by various politicians including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.

The importance of this election comes from the political polarization in this country. Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, voters seem to fall primarily along two party lines–either Democrat or Republican. Of course, many Americans still fall within a third party. But we’re taught to see our political party as right, and all others as wrong. 

That’s why it can be frustrating to not see a candidate whom you feel aligns with your views. In this election, we see the conservative Republican incumbent versus the liberal Democratic former vice president. Both have the political experience necessary to take on the role as president for the next four years. But many voters were dependent on the presidential debates to determine where they would cast their vote. 

And the first presidential debate certainly didn’t hit swing voters with as much impact as we would hope.

“Focus groups and polling suggest that the first presidential debate did little to convince swing voters to vote for one candidate over the other,” said Jennifer Anderson, a political science professor at U of L specializing in campaigns and elections.

In fact, it seems like the first debate might’ve had the opposite effect.

“Some focus group evidence from the NY Times, NPR and others suggest the debate pushed some undecided voters more toward opting out of voting rather than voting for one candidate over the other,” Anderson said.

But sooner or later, voters need to make a choice.

Anderson analyzed the overall effectiveness of the two campaigns, as well as ways in which each candidate could improve.


Trump

Trump continues to do well with his base. His nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court is sitting well with most Republicans, and the nomination serves as a reminder to Republicans that there are lasting implications for voting for a president of one’s own party, even for those who aren’t Trump fans,” Anderson said.

She said his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak is a low point in his campaign. It certainly doesn’t help Trump having such a massive global pandemic so close to Election Day. 

Anderson also said Trump is inconsistent with the messaging in his campaign.

Ian McCall, a sophomore, plans to vote for Trump.

“I’m voting for Trump because this election is more than just a battle of policy. Our country is more divided than it has ever been. This election has become a battle of culture, and I as many conservatives feel that all our institutions and our very way of life is under threat,” McCall said.

“Biden will take the country in a direction that seems decidedly un-American to me. My concern is doing what is best for the people in my life and that, to me, is voting for Trump,” he said. “I understand some feel that voting for Biden is what is best for the country and in truth I don’t believe there is an objectively right or wrong way to run the country.”

 

Biden

Anderson said that analysts predicted that Biden would make “costly gaffes in his campaign,” but that he has largely avoided mistakes. She said Biden could improve through changing the “finding a way to change the narrative around his older age and perceived frailty.”

Joe Biden has been criticized by Trump and his supporters for his slurred speech and forgetfulness, so much so, that Trump has given Biden the nickname “Sleepy Joe.” 

Lorenzo Rowan, a sophomore, will be voting for Biden.

“I believe that Biden is the easier candidate to bully into making substantive changes for POC and LGBTQ with nationwide intersectional protests against his administration,” Rowan said.

Another reason Rowan said he’s voting for Biden is because of Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his climate change policies.

“Over 200k Americans are dead from COVID-19 because of Trump’s ineptitude, stupidity and narcissism. Trump’s lack of belief in the existence of human-caused climate changed had cost us precious time to address that existential crisis. Biden has proposed a $2 trillion dollar plan to help with climate change.”


This year, Election Day looks a little different for much of America. While in person polling places will still be around, our democracy is also relying on mail-in votes being cast.

Unfortunately, voting fraud is already happening.

Unauthorized ballot boxes were set up by the California Republican Party to count unofficial votes in the state. This is an act of voter suppression, intended to take away the voice and democratic power of those who might threaten the chances of certain candidates being elected. It is also against state law.

Other polling locations are facing long lines with several hours of waiting just to receive a ballot.

Don’t let this be a deterrent in exercising the right to vote. Despite concerns around fraudulent behavior in regards to mail-in voting, voter fraud is actually rare.

In this pandemic, millions of Americans are given the opportunity to avoid possibly catching or spreading COVID-19. By mail-in voting, you can show that you value both voting and being safe around others. Even if you decide to vote in person, you’ll have your vote counted and it will impact our country’s future.

Louisville voters can access one of many drop-box locations around the city. 

Everybody that is eligible to vote needs to get out and do their part for our democracy.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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KY Senate Race 2020: Get out and vote in Kentucky’s local elections. Tuesday, Oct 20 2020 

By Catherine Brown-

Local elections are around the corner and students are encouraged to vote. On Nov. 3, Kentucky voters will have the opportunity to vote for our next state senator. 

Republican candidate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell faces opposition from Democrat Amy McGrath, a former U.S. Marine fighter pilot.

The intensity of this election has been building up for the past several years. 

In a red state like Kentucky, McConnell is already seen as a given winner. He has the power of incumbency that could easily bring him a win this fall. 

But Amy McGrath is certainly making a name for herself in this campaign cycle. Her campaign is known for many ads that catch viewers’ attention, including a cartoon series titled “Swamp Turtle.” The animation depicts McConnell as the titular swamp turtle, with episodes depicting his interactions with other politicians and reporters. The cartoon portrays McConnell as slow and apathetic towards current events.

However the decision is ultimately Kentucky voters’. Those who vote are able to make a difference for those who can’t vote.

By voting, you impact the future for millions of children, non-citizens, and those who can’t vote due to physical restrictions.

This election is probably not going exactly how everyone expects it should. With COVID-19 affecting polling locations and voting procedures, it’s hard to get used to a new Election Day. But every registered voter should know that when they first registered, they were signing up to exercise their constitutional right to vote. 

The Cardinal has created two articles on both Senate candidates with U of L student’s opinions on who you should vote for.

For an opinion on why you should vote for Amy McGrath, click here.

For an opinion on why you should vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell, click here.

Remember, the time to vote is now. Early voting has already started. Have you made your plan to vote this year?

For more information on how to vote this year, visit the Jefferson County Clerk’s website, or Kentucky’s official voting resource website.

Graphic by Alexis Simon // The Louisville Cardinal

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Biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s Vice Presidential debate Saturday, Oct 10 2020 

By Katie Volpentesta —

In a jam-packed news week, Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee, Senator Kamala Harris had plenty to debate about on Wednesday night. Here are the most important topics of the night as well as the biggest things to take away as a college student preparing to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Avoiding the questions.

In a move typical of political debates, both candidates found a way to skirt around a question they did not want to answer.

Pence avoided answering whether he felt that President Donald Trump and the White House was irresponsible by hosting Amy Coney-Barrett’s SCOTUS nomination ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, an event that turned into a COVID-19 super spreader event. He also avoided answering questions about how far he would go to roll back abortion rights and if he believes climate change poses a threat to the US.

Harris avoided talking about her past support for the Green New Deal (which her running mate Joe Biden does not support) and talking about if she supports lifting all restrictions on abortions.

Both candidates would not answer if they had discussed Trump or Biden’s possibility of becoming incapacitated due to old age during their terms as president. They also avoided answering a question about the possibility of Trump refusing a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election.

COVID-19’s Impact.

In the past week, Trump, his wife Melania, numerous White House officials, and other Republican politicians have all tested positive for COVID-19. The debate continued as scheduled with the added caveat that Harris and Pence would be socially distanced with two layers of plexiglass between them.

Pence tested negative ahead of this debate, and Harris used this opportunity to emphasize the Trump administration’s poor handing of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the debate, Pence mentioned several people who were “here in Salt Lake City with us tonight,” implying that he has invited and been in contact with several individuals before or after the debate. If Pence were to follow CDC guidelines, he should have been in a 14-day quarantine following his close contact with Trump and others who have tested positive in the last week.

Kamala Harris as a Black woman in a VP Debate.

In a political cycle that has been dominated by white men, Harris’ presence as a black woman in a major election was felt. On multiple occasions, she asked Pence and the moderator Susan Page for equal time as her opponent and refused to let Pence cut her off while she was speaking.

“I just can’t shake how surreal it was seeing a black woman debating a white man for one of the most powerful positions in the U.S,” tweeted U of L alumna Bri Williams.

Harris set an example for young women, especially women of color, as she held her own against Pence and refused to take a back seat just because she is a woman. She was aware of how gender would play into the debate, and came prepared to defend her credentials and ensure that she had equal time to speak.

The Affordable Care Act and its Impact on College Students.

Throughout the debate, Pence and Harris argued over the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Pence did not detail what his and Trump’s healthcare plan would look like should it be overturned. With over 23 million people being protected under the ACA, Harris stressed that Trump and Pence’s rollbacks of the ACA would negatively impact millions.

“If you have preexisting conditions, they’re coming for you,” Harris stressed. “If you are under 26 and on your parents insurance, they are coming for you.”

Pence’s response was to attack Biden and Harris’ plans for a potential mask mandate, calling it a “government takeover of healthcare.”

Bonus: The Fly on Mike Pence’s Head.

While Pence was talking about racial justice and systemic racism, a fly landed on his head and stayed there for a whole two minutes. It trended on Twitter in real time, as celebrities, politicians and viewers alike called it the highlight of the night.

A Twitter account was created for the fly, and the Biden campaign even posted a photo of Biden with a fly swatter that says “Truth over Flies” on their website just minutes after the debate ended.

The fly stole the show, leaving some refreshed that a fly was the most interesting part of the night compared to last week’s debate fiasco.

 

Nearly every viewer of Wednesday’s VP debate can agree that it was easier to follow than last week’s presidential debate. After this debate, it’s clear that the looming COVID-19 pandemic, the future of the Affordable Care Act, and gender and race issues will continue to stick out in voters’ minds in the last month before the election.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Students: What you need to know about voting in the 2020 election Wednesday, Sep 30 2020 

By Katie Volpentesta —

The 2020 Presidential election is just six weeks away, so it’s important to be educated on voting options as well as candidates and policies down the ballot.

While the COVID-19 pandemic complicates in-person voting options, the Jefferson County Board of Elections is doing everything they can to keep Jefferson County residents informed of their options, including registering to vote, requesting and sending in a mail-in ballot, and voting in person both early or on Election Day.

“In a normal election we have about 232 locations within 623 precincts, and now with coronavirus, a lot of things have changed,” said Jordan Kelch, public relations administrator at the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office. Typically, early or mail-in voting is only allowed if a voter meets one of ten special criteria that prevent you from being able to vote on Election Day.

Instead of smaller polling locations throughout the county, the board has created four election super centers that will allow for social distanced voting in large, open areas. Early voting will take place at the Kentucky Exposition Center, the YUM! Center, the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, and a fourth location in the east end that is yet to be announced.

Early in-person voting is from Oct. 13 to Nov. 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and voting on Election Day, Nov. 3, will be at the same locations from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In order to vote either in person or via mail-in absentee ballot, residents of Jefferson County must be registered to vote. Luckily, this process is available and easily accessible online. The last day to register to vote in Kentucky is Oct. 5 at 4 p.m.

Additionally, the deadline to order a mail-in ballot in Kentucky is Oct. 9 by 11:59 p.m. These resources, as well as information on polling places, candidates and issues on your ballot, are available on the Jefferson County Clerk’s elections site.

“There’s 1,200 ballot styles for this election. Jefferson County is really large, so there’s lots of different areas with small city races,” Kelch said. “It all comes down to your legislative district and the neighborhood you live in.” The Jefferson County Clerk’s site can show you your exact ballot.

U of L’s Vote Everywhere initiative looks to keep students informed about voting options, deadlines and ways to stay informed as well. They want to ensure that students know the power of their vote and what it means to be informed.

“There’s so many deadlines and it gets really confusing, even for a student like me who is super civically engaged,” said Vote Everywhere Ambassador Wyn Garfinkle-Plymesser.

By hosting events on campus and frequently updating their Instagram page, @UofLVE, Garfinkle-Plymesser and her co-ambassador Arianna Moya engage with students and promote civic engagement within the U of L community.

“We just want to be a space where people can come and get the answers straight up and know what’s really going on,” said Garfinkle-Plymesser. “If they have any concerns about voting or their vote being suppressed, we wanna be the space that students can come to and have their concerns heard and questions answered.”

While Jefferson County is doing their best to make this election as accessible and safe as possible, Kelch recommends that residents vote early if possible and don’t procrastinate sending in a mail-in ballot.

“If you’re done and you’ve signed it completely, both the goldenrod envelope and exterior envelope, and you’ve followed all the directions and are ready to turn it in, please do so immediately,” Kelch said. “Election Day will obviously be very busy.”

For further information regarding the upcoming general election in Jefferson County, please go to elections.jeffersoncountyclerk.org.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Most Kentucky County Election Plans Still Haven’t Been Approved Monday, Sep 28 2020 

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With early voting set to begin in two weeks, state officials still haven’t approved most Kentucky counties’ plans for in-person voting.

Many Kentucky counties plan to have fewer in-person polling locations amid a shortage of poll workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Over the summer, Gov. Andy Beshear and Secretary of State Michael Adams issued an order allowing all voters to cast ballots by mail if they are worried about catching or transmitting coronavirus and requiring all counties to have early in-person voting starting on October 13.


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Kentucky Secretary of State talks to students about upcoming election Monday, Sep 28 2020 

By Victoria Doll —

Vote Everywhere, a student organization at the University of Louisville, recently hosted Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams to discuss the upcoming 2020 election and address concerns about voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adams, a U of L alum, said that Kentucky is ranked number one in the country for ease of voting during the pandemic due to the work of him and Gov. Andy Beshear.

However, Adams has faced backlash from his Republican colleagues about ensuring integrity in the election. To address these concerns, he and his team have created a voting portal on the Kentucky Secretary of State website.

This portal matches voter’s signatures on their licenses to the signature on their absentee ballot. Once the voter has requested an absentee ballot, the voter is flagged in the system and cannot vote in person.

This way, voters have more ways to vote in elections along with confidence that the election is honest.

For this election, there are four different ways to vote in November. They include: in-person voting on election day, in-person voting before election day, absentee ballots by mail and absentee ballot by drop-off.

The cut off time for voting on election day, Nov. 3, is 6 p.m. Adams stressed the importance of voting before that cut off.

“That is a strict cut off that is in our constitution. There is nothing I can do to change that,” Adams said.

Voters who arrive in line before 6 p.m. will still be able to vote as long as they stay in line.

He also said that early in-person voting starts on Oct. 13. No prior excuse or appointment will be needed to utilize this voting method. Early voting stations in Jefferson County are still being decided.

Absentee voting is still open to be requested. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 9 at 11:59 pm.

Adams said that these four ways to vote are only in place for this election year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Kentuckians have voiced strong approval of these more convenient voting methods.

He mentioned that there is a push for the absentee voting portal to remain open and active after the 2020 election and he hopes to help pass legislation to make voting easier in the future.

Adams concluded the session with a piece of advice for U of L students.

“Please vote! People listen on election day,” he said. “This is an opportunity to get [your elected officials’] attention!”

Photo Courtesy // Kentucky Secretary of State Office

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What Do You Need To Know About Voting In Election 2020? Monday, Sep 21 2020 

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In this year like no other, Election 2020 will be unlike other elections. The coronavirus pandemic makes some of the usual in-person voting a potential health hazard. Election officials have had to create new ways to safely and fairly conduct elections. And the hyper-partisan political atmosphere can make it harder to get accurate information about how to vote.

The Ohio Valley ReSource is ready to help you get the information you need. What are your questions and concerns about Election 2020?


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Formerly Disenfranchised Kentucky Voters Cast Their Ballots Monday, Jun 22 2020 

For many in the Ohio Valley, voting is a choice, a right they are free to exercise if they want to. But for Jackie McGranahan and the more than 175,000 other formerly disenfranchised Kentuckians, this primary election is special. It’s her first chance to vote since 2008. 

She won’t be going to a voting booth. Elections are a bit different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most voting in Kentucky is happening by mail. But even though she couldn’t go to the polls with her friends or be handed her ‘I Voted’ sticker, that didn’t stop McGranahan from savoring the moment of voting.

“I filled out the absentee ballot. I signed my name and I waited for my postman to come so I could hand it to him directly from my porch to know that my vote will be counted, that I have a voice,” McGranahan said.

ACLU of Kentucky

Jackie McGranahan

McGranahan lost her right to vote after being convicted of a felony drug-related charge. Until late last year, Kentucky banned people with felony records from voting, even after completing their sentences. Now, Kentucky is catching up to Ohio, West Virginia, and 46 other states, at least temporarily, by allowing some people who have served their sentences after being convicted of a felony to cast a ballot. Following up on a campaign promise, Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order shortly after taking office, restoring voting rights for people who have served their time for non-violent, non-sexual felony offenses.

McGranahan has been sober and in recovery for more than four years. She works with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and said normally she’s the one pushing other people to exercise their right to vote. She said so many people like her know what it’s like to not have a voice in politics.

“I remember on Election Day that everyone was taking pictures of their I voted sticker, and it was all over Facebook,” she said. “And it was really exciting for people, but for me, it was a different feeling. You know, it’s kind of, it’s an empty feeling.”

McGranahan remembers the moment her colleague called her to give her the good news. 

“She called to say, ‘Jackie, you can vote.’ And I remember that feeling with tears running down my face that it seemed unreal, but it was so exciting,” she said. “And my heart was filled, completely filled with just excitement, and energy, anticipation.”

McGranahan said the moment was short-lived and bittersweet because so many other people who have been convicted of a felony still can’t vote in Kentucky. 

Temporary Right  

Kate Miller is the advocacy director for the ACLU of Kentucky. She said she’s glad to see the progress that’s been made in the Commonwealth to expand access to voting for more people. But, she doesn’t think Beshear’s executive order goes far enough.

“We don’t think that anyone should lose their right to vote to begin with,” Miller said. “We think that individuals who are currently incarcerated because of felony convictions should be able to vote. And that’s true regardless of what they’re convicted of.” 

Miller said a year ago she never thought the state would see progress on the restoration of voting rights for Kentuckians, but she was impressed with one bill proposed in the 2020 legislative session.

“It was the cleanest bill that we’ve seen in a long time,” she said. “I think, ever, in terms of not excluding individuals not having a waiting period, not putting up additional barriers.”

Miller said that the ACLU often has to compromise, but when amending the state constitution there are only so many opportunities. In this year’s General Assembly, there was a bill proposed that would amend the state’s constitution and automatically restore the right to vote for many Kentuckians. The bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon of Marion County and passed out of committee, but ultimately wasn’t put up for a vote in the full legislature. 

Miller said there’s nothing more fundamental in a democracy than having the opportunity to weigh in on who the decision-makers are for your community.

Beshear said he does not think everyone who has committed a felony should get back the right to vote. He said in his time as Attorney General, he saw the trauma that violent crimes such as rape, human trafficking, and murder can cause a family and community. 

“There are some crimes that are just so bad and the trauma is so severe that I don’t think it’s appropriate to restore those rights,” he said.

It took two Beshear governors to make the change for people like McGranahan. Andy Beshear’s father, former Gov, Steve Beshear, had signed an executive order on his way out of the office in 2015 to restore voting rights to some people with felony records. When former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin took his place in 2015 he quickly rescinded the order. That’s why Beshear wants to see the change made permanent, which would require an amendment to the state’s constitution.

“This is something that is a great step but ought to be enshrined with a constitutional amendment because it ought to become automatic and not depend on who the governor is,” he said.

Because her right to vote isn’t permanent, McGranahan said she wanted to savor the moment of filling in her ballot, not knowing how many more chances she’ll get. 

“It’s constant anxiety, knowing that in the back of my mind…like I’m very, I’m extremely excited to vote but then knowing, that this could be the last time,” she said.

Beshear also launched a website where people can check to see if they qualify for having their voting rights automatically restored. Kentuckians can check their voter registration online, and sign up to be able to vote in November. It’s unclear if absentee voting will be expanded in the Ohio Valley for the general election.

 

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