Two hundred thousand Kentuckians are currently unable to participate in the democratic process in the Commonwealth.
They are not allowed to vote, to run for office or even serve on jury duty. Kentucky is one of the few states in the Union who still do not allow ex-felons to vote, with felons as its 4th largest and one of its fastest growing communities.
Of the 250,000 Kentuckians, 186,000 have served their sentences and parole, but are tax paying citizens without the right to vote. In a time in which almost every Kentuckian has had contact or personally knows someone who has been convicted of a felony, it is an issue that is hard to ignore. Does Kentucky benefit from not allowing a significant portion of its Commonwealth to vote? Or is it does it only serve to its detriment, fostering an environment that encourages recidivism and a burden on the tax payers’ wallet?
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), a grass roots organization with chapters and members all over the Commonwealth, has taken up the issue of disenfranchisement and has made voter empowerment one of its main focuses.
During this season of inactivity for Kentucky politics, KFTC has taken up an initiative to build momentum for the next election season, hoping to really build support for representatives and senators who will support voter empowerment.
As part of this effort Democracy Parties were thrown all over the Commonwealth on Nov. 5 to invite Kentuckians into KFTC and let them know about the issue of voter empowerment. Georgetown College’s very own Sociology Club, often a partner of KFTC, held a Democracy House Party. In the midst of delicious chili, desserts and drinks, party goers discussed the issue of disenfranchisement and how to build efforts for voter empowerment.
Attending the House Party was Michael Hiser, a prison chaplain and adjunct at Jefferson County Technical College. He spoke about his experience as an ex-felon and his efforts to bring civic engagement to Kentucky Prisons.
Hiser added a very human dimension to the issue of disenfranchisement. With a genial and kind-hearted presence, it was hard to imagine him as one of the statistics mentioned above.
As Democracy Party goers soon learned, Michael Hiser is a husband, father, teacher and mentor who is passionately driven. Despite growing up in an urban ghetto and being a 17 time felon, Hiser was able to gain release and get a college education, which he soon used to help others who were still in Kentucky’s prison system.
He reminded those who attended that he along with others with felony convictions are human too – human beings with family members, passions, and hopes. When speaking about the issue of voter disenfranchisement, Hiser has often encountered questions and objections, to which he responds with disarming honesty, humor, and compelling arguments.
“You’re going to have to deal with them on way or another,” Hiser reminded partygoers, “Why not help them contribute to the building a better democracy? It’s hard to convince someone to tear down something they helped build.”