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Pandemic slowing efforts to educate and register Kentuckians with felonies to vote

Posted at 8:57 PM, Sep 02, 2020

(LEX 18) — Before thousands of re-enfranchised Kentuckians with felony convictions can join the ranks of Americans casting a ballot in November’s election, they’ll need to register to vote.

Tayna Fogle spends her days on the phone, trying to help them do exactly that.

“The pandemic adds to the challenge of locating, educating and persuading [felons to vote],” Fogle said.

Traditional voter registration strategies like door-to-door canvassing and pop-up voter registration drives have been put on the back burner as organizations such as Fogle's, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, focus on registering people to vote over the phone in an effort to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order in December to restore voting rights to more than 170,000 Kentuckians convicted of felonies. They need to be registered to vote before the state’s Oct. 5 deadline.

“It’s important to make sure we start [the voter registration] process now because people need to be educated. They may not realize they’ve regained their right to vote. We’ve seen a lot of evidence in other states that people just assume they don’t have the right to vote even when their rights have been restored,” explained University of Kentucky elections law professor Joshua A. Douglas.

Voter registration volunteers are making the best of their available avenues to reach people, but Fogle said having limited opportunities to make one-on-one connections with voters is challenging.

“There are a lot of people across Kentucky who think their vote doesn’t count,” she said. “As we start talking about issues that matter to them, they start to realize their vote will count.”

While it’s hard to make predictions about how re-enfranchised felons will impact the upcoming election due to a lack of widespread data on the population, Douglas said efforts to register those with felonies to vote is just as important as any other group.

“These people are members of the community,” Douglas said. “We shouldn’t ignore this population because they are eligible voters, just like everybody else, and they should have a say in who our elected officials are.”

“We count,” said Fogle, who was recently re-enfranchised by the governor’s executive order. “We made mistakes that took us to prison, but we’re not mistakes. We’re very smart people who have been left out of the democratic process.”

If you don’t know whether you fall under the category of Kentuckians with felonies who have had their rights restored, you can check your status here.

If you need to register to vote, you can do so on the Secretary of State’s online voter registration website.