by Melissa Quinn
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear vowed during his inaugural address Tuesday to restore voting rights to more than 100,000 people convicted of felonies.
"My faith teaches me to treat others with dignity and respect. My faith also teaches forgiveness," Beshear, a Democrat, said during his speech from the steps of the Kentucky capital in Frankfort. "That's why on Thursday, I will sign an executive order restoring voting rights to over 100,000 men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now."
"They deserve to participate in our great democracy," Beshear added. "By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone in Kentucky counts. We all matter."
Kentucky and Iowa have some of the most stringent restrictions on voting rights for those with felony records and impose lifetime bans on voting for convicted felons. Under the Kentucky Constitution, individuals can petition the governor to restore their voting rights.
A January report on disenfranchisement from the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found more than 312,000 Kentuckians cannot vote because of felony convictions, up from 186,348 in 2006.
Beshear appears to be following the lead of his father, former Governor Steve Beshear, who issued an executive order in November 2015 restoring voting rights to people convicted of certain felonies who had completed their sentences. But Steve Beshear's successor, Republican Governor Matt Bevin, rescinded the executive order at the start of his term in December 2015 and said restoration of rights is an issue better left to the state legislature.
Beshear narrowly defeated Bevin in the gubernatorial election last month. He was sworn as Kentucky's 63rd governor Tuesday.