They've paid their dues for mistakes of their past, however an estimated 300,000 Kentuckians are not allowed to cast a ballot on Election Day. Kentucky is one of four states that takes away the voting power of all people with a felony conviction for their entire lifetime.
A partial pardon from the governor can restore voting rights, but it's a tedious process, according to Lexington native Tayna Fogle. She served 10 years on a felony charge, and says she was floored to discover her political voice had been taken away. "It's like a double jeopardy for individuals who have gone to prison and have met all the qualifications to be released, to start their life over," she states. "I believe it's a double jeopardy when we come home and we get the shocking news that we have lost our right to vote."
It took repeated efforts and persistence, but Fogle's voting rights were eventually restored. Felony disenfranchisement is in the Kentucky constitution. Since 2007, there have been several unsuccessful legislative attempts at the statehouse to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for most former felons upon completion of their sentence.
Shelton McElroy of Louisville also has a past felony conviction and served his time. He contends mistakes he made nearly 20 years ago are diminishing his value in the community. "Restricting the vote prevents us in our everyday lives from being the best people that we can and building our communities the way we desire our communities to be built," he states.
McElroy and Fogle are both organizers with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which works around the state to increase awareness about felony voting disenfranchisement. Fogle says too many people have lost hope in themselves and their communities, and she believes everyone deserves a shot at redemption.
"I made a mistake, but I'm not a mistake and that shouldn't prevent me from going to the polls," she stresses. "I want my children and my grandchildren to be proud of me. And I get to freely give back what God has given to me and that's working with people just like me."
According to data from The Sentencing Project, Kentucky's felony voting ban prevents about 9 percent of Kentuckians from casting a ballot. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is among groups advocating for the restoration of voting rights for most people with a felony conviction.