As Americans, we have a right to vote, but in Kentucky, convicted felons are stripped of that right. While some states reinstated it, Kentucky has not until now.
On Tuesday, Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order that automatically restores a felon's right to vote.
"Congratulations to many of the tens of thousands of people who will soon become engaged members of society once again," Beshear said.
Beshear made this announcement just two weeks before the end of his term. He says voting is a right for all Americans, including convicted felons. Democratic State Rep. Gerald Watkins agrees.
"This allows them to rejoin humanity, to rejoin citizens and become a full-fledged U.S. citizen and a citizen of Kentucky once again," Watkins said.
Under the new policy, voting rights are automatically restored to felons who have fulfilled the terms of their sentence including prison time, probation and restitution.
Watkins says state lawmakers have tried getting similar legislation on the ballot, but they could never come to an agreement. The democrat says he applauds the governor's decision to sign an executive order, but not all lawmakers agree.
"I feel like he's overstepped his boundaries on this," State Sen. Danny Carroll said.
Carroll says lawmakers were elected to be the voice of the people on issues just like this one.
"If the governor is just going to do that every time, why do you need a legislature," says Carroll.
The Republican state senator says he agrees with restoring voting rights to convicted felons but says this policy needs more restrictions.
"The way I understand this, it's perpetual. You can get your voting rights restored after your first felony, your second felony, your third felony, and that's just unacceptable," says Carroll.
If you're a convicted felon and are no longer in the correctional system, you can pick up a restoration of rights form at any Probation and Parole office. To be considered, you must have no pending criminal cases, charges or arrests. The policy does not include people convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.
Once Gov.-Elect Matt Bevin is in office, he can reverse the executive order, but Watkins says that would be a dangerous political move.
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