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Rand Paul Has Mixed Feelings About Governor's Ex-Felon Voting Rights Order

rand paul
J. Tyler Franklin
Rand Paul

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, but he's not exactly applauding outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order last week restoring voting rights to many non-violent ex-felons.

During a news conference in Louisville on Monday, Paul said he supports rights restoration but is not too pleased with the idea of a single elected official unilaterally changing state law. He also said he wasn’t sure if it was legal for Beshear to make the change on his own.

“You know, I am very supportive of giving voting rights back to non-violent felons who have served their time,” he said. “What I am unclear of legally is: Does he have the power to do that? And I have heard various interpretations.”

Paul, a Kentucky Republican and presidential candidate, said he believes the change might have been best carried out by the General Assembly.

"I am a little concerned about changing the law or changing the constitution from one man or woman — Republican or Democrat — exerting power that may be a legislative power," he said.

Paul has been a longtime supporter of criminal justice reform. Earlier this year, he called the restoration of voting rights for non-violent ex-felons the "right thing to do." He's gone as far as testifying before a legislative committee on the issue.

But those efforts have gone nowhere in the state legislature, leading Beshear to issue an executive order in his final weeks in office.

In a news release last week, the governor's office noted that he "consistently supported legislative efforts to permit a constitutional referendum on restoration of rights, and wanted to allow that process to play out."

Beshear's office added that he waited until after the November election to keep the issue from becoming politicized during the campaign.

The governor's executive order restores voting rights to about 180,000 Kentucky ex-felons.

Paul's stance echoes that of other Kentucky Republicans. Some GOP legislative leaders have questioned whether the governor has the authority to restore voting rights to ex-felons in such a manner.

“Nobody’s taking a look at each individual case, which is normally what happens when someone requests to have their voting rights restored,” said state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican.

Even state Rep. Darryl Owens, a Democrat and leading proponent of felon voting rights restoration, said he still wants the General Assembly to take up the issue. Owens said last week that he doesn't want voting rights left up to the "whims" of future governors.

Governor-elect Matt Bevin, who has supported the restoration of felon voting rights, is reviewing Beshear's order, according to his transition team. Bevin takes office Dec. 8.