Kentucky governor restores voting rights of most felons

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Even Felons Shouldn't Lose Right To Vote Forever, Americans Say

FRANKFORT, Ky., Nov 24 (Reuters) - Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear on Tuesday signed an executive order restoring voting rights to most felons in state in an action that he said will affect some 180,000 people.

Once felons have completed their sentences, including any probation or parole, and have made court-mandated restitution, they will have their rights automatically restored as long as they have no additional cases pending, Beshear said.

Previously, felony offenders needed to apply to the governor's office to have their voting rights restored. Now, Beshear said, the Department of Corrections will make the determination.

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"The old system is unfair," Beshear said. "It's counterproductive. We need to be smarter in our criminal justice system. Research shows that ex-felons who vote are less likely to commit new crime and return to prison. That's because if you vote, you tend to be more engaged in society."

The outgoing Democratic governor, speaking to reporters in the state capital, said the order does not cover those convicted of violent, sex-related, bribery or treason crimes.

Kentucky is one of four states that requires its governor to sign off on the restoration of a felon's voting rights.

The issue has long been debated in Kentucky as the state House of Representatives, controlled by the Democrats, has passed a restoration bill 10 times in the last nine years only for it to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. However, the issue does have broad support as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul urged the passage of a bill that would have restored the right to non-violent felons.

However, even Republican officials who support restoring rights criticized the governor's approach.

"My issue with today's action is not about the restoration of those rights, but the fact once again this governor has chosen to usurp the authority of the Kentucky General Assembly through executive order," state House minority leader Jeff Hoover said in a statement.

Hoover questioned the legality of the governor's action, saying that an amendment to the state constitution was required.

Beshear responded by saying the state constitution gives him the right to restore voting rights.

Beshear has served two terms as governor and was prohibited from running for a third straight time. Earlier this month, Republican Matt Bevin won election and will be inaugurated next month.

A call to Bevin's office has not yet been returned. (Reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Frankfort, Ky., Writing by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

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Kentucky governor restores voting rights of most felons
A prison cell block is seen following a tour by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE -- In this Aug. 17, 2011 file photo, reporters inspect one of the two-tiered cell pods in the Security Housing Unit at the Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif. Inmates say newly imposed welfare checks in the SHU have created excessive noise by the guards, causing California prison officials to hand out earplugs to inmates and tell the guards to walk softly while going about their rounds.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)
In this June 18, 2015, photo, a prisoner walks near his crowded living area in Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala. Alabama is trying to stave off federal intervention in its overcrowded prison system with a reform package approved this spring that includes a bond issue for additional prison space and a new law making sweeping changes to sentencing and probation standards. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
In this June 18, 2015 photo, prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala. Alabama is trying to stave off federal intervention in its overcrowded prison system with a reform package approved this spring that includes a bond issue for additional prison space and a new law making sweeping changes to sentencing and probation standards. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
In this June 18, 2015, photo, prisoners stand in a crowded lunch line during a prison tour at Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala. Alabama is trying to stave off federal intervention in its overcrowded prison system with a reform package approved this spring that includes a bond issue for additional prison space and a new law making sweeping changes to sentencing and probation standards. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
An inmate with mental health conditions is handcuffed to a table while jailed in the Medium Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate with mental health conditions eats is a cell while jailed in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Handcuffs sit on a rail in the High Observation Housing at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An inmate works in the kitchen at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A prison cell is seen through the door window following a tour of the cell block by US President Barack Obama at the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno, Oklahoma, July 16, 2015. Obama is the first sitting US President to visit a federal prison, in a push to reform one of the most expensive and crowded prison systems in the world. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Inmates with mental health conditions are escorted to the the Correctional Treatment Center Hospital at the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Conditions for mentally ill inmates in Los Angeles county have been a focus of federal probes since 1997, and the number with psychiatric disorders was an issue in a recent debate over a new jail. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A bird flies over barbed wire on top of fences at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, U.S., on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. California is under a federal court order to lower the population of its prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling that inmate health care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. Photographer: Sam Hodgson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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