By Emily Udell
Courier Journal Newspaper
October 1, 2008, Neighborhoods Section
Rev. Angela Lee Price, voter registration minister at St. Stephen Church, applauded at last night's ceremony at the local NAACP office. Donna Cook said she's been trying to get back her right to vote since her probation ended in 2005. But it wasn't until yesterday that she signed her voter-registration card through a program offered by the Louisville branch of the NAACP.
"Now I count for something. Now I stand for something again," said Cook, an environmental services worker who had her two children at her side. Cook, 44, was one of 142 participants in the local NAACP's program to register felons in time for next month's elections. Of those, 98 have had their voting rights restored, and a handful gathered last night to turn in their voter-registration cards.
"This program works - you are the living proof," branch President Raoul Cunningham told the group gathered at the office, 1245 Catalpa Court.
In Kentucky, felons must go through a process to secure their rights from the governor, and this year the NAACP reached out to people with records through radio advertisements and church visits.
To qualify, felons must have completed their sentence or parole and must not be under felony indectment, have pending charges or woe any fines or restitution.
This is the first year that the NAACP branch has included felons in its voter registration efforts. Other efforts target youths, senior citizens and African Americans.
Cunningham said laws disenfranchising felons disproportionately affect African Americans. "This is just a drop in the bucket," he said. "But we had to start somewhere."
Kentucky and Virginia are he only states in which all felony offenders are prohibited from voting unless they receive an exception from the governor, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for the restoration of their voting rights.
The ACLU estimates 5.3 million Americans are unable to vote because of felony convictions, including about 186,000 in Kentucky. It says nearly 129,000 of those in Kentucky have serve their sentences.
Karen Henry, 35, who was among those turning in their cards last nights, said he is looking foward to gooing to the polls for the firs time next month. "It feels great to be a part of something that's part of being American," he said. "Even though you make mistakes, you shouldn't be condemned to pay for it for the rest of your life if you've paid you debt to society."