LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - More than 100,000 Kentuckians were looking forward to one of Governor Andy Beshear’s first actions in office Thursday.
Beshear fulfilled a campaign promise signing an executive order automatically restoring voting rights for some felons in the state.
"It's wrong," Beshear said. "In fact, I believe its an injustice that their ability to fully rejoin society by casting a vote on election day is automatically denied."
Earlier this year, the League of Women Voters of Kentucky found that more than 312,000 people couldn't vote in Kentucky because of their criminal record.
“Right now, I’m inside doing cartwheels because I’ve never had the right to vote,” one Louisville man, who spoke at the signing of the executive order, said. “My words have always fallen on deaf ears.”
Beshear said the order will allow 140,000 of those 312,000 people previously ineligible to now vote.
"I've tried and tried to be heard at the polls and I have been told no," A Louisville woman, who spoke at the signing, said. "I was told 13-years-ago that if I kept doing the next right thing, the next right thing would happen. Thank you so much for making the next right thing happen because now my voice matters."
In an executive order Thursday, Beshear restored voting rights to people convicted of nonviolent felonies, who have served their sentence.
Those with violent convictions or sentences related to election issues will not receive the right to vote under the order.
“People are being what they’re supposed to be, humans,” Savvy Shabazz, who has been advocating for felon voting rights for years, said. “This is a God-given right for us to have the right to vote. It’s a right that should have never been taken away. So, it makes a person feel included.”
Shabazz was convicted of a felony drug offense, and sentenced to 28 years. He’s no longer in prison but has been on inactive parole since 2013. So, while he believes the order is a move in the right direction, he says he still can’t vote.
“We have an issue of over sentencing as well because we have individuals that have 20 to 30 or 40 years for nonviolent offenses,” Shabazz said. “So, this is disenfranchisement as well.”
Shabazz says he hasn't been able to vote since 2002.
He said he still wants to see other felons, not currently included, given their rights back as well.
Republican state legislators say they're concerned the executive order changes the Kentucky constitution.
House Speaker David Osborne released the following statement upon hearing of Governor Andy Beshear using an executive order to restore voting rights:
“We are now reviewing the specific details of this executive order. Initially, we have concerns about the use of an executive order to effectively amend our state constitution. Regardless of which side you are on - and it is important to note that a version of this has already passed the House with support from members of both parties - ultimately only the Kentucky voter has the authority to amend our constitution.”