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Nevada lawmakers hear bill to restore voting rights for felons

CARSON CITY – Nevada would become the 15th state to restore full voting rights to felons upon their release from prison under a bill heard in committee Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 431 builds on civil rights action for felons approved by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2017, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, the bill sponsor, told the Assembly Judiciary Committee. Unlike the more comprehensive earlier measure, the latest proposal has one purpose, he said: to restore voting rights to people who have served their sentence.

“There is, especially in this day and time, no better way to motivate someone to stick to the rules, to comply with societal norms, than to allow them to participate in the electoral process,” Frierson said.

State laws on voting rights for felons vary widely, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Felons never lost the right to vote in Maine and Vermont and may do so even behind bars. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia restore voting rights automatically upon prison release and 22 states restore rights automatically after a post-release waiting period. In 12 states, felons lose voting rights indefinitely for certain crimes, need a governor’s pardon to have voting rights restored, or face additional requirements, such as completion of parole or probation.

Prior to 2003, all felony convictions in Nevada resulted in lifetime disenfranchisement without a pardon or court order. That year the state enacted a process for restoring voting rights for felons conditioned on the type and severity of offense and the terms of discharge from probation or parole.

The 2017 legislation loosened the earlier requirements. The pending measure goes further: An amendment Frierson included would automatically restore voting rights to all felons upon release, simplifying the process for deciding if an ex-felon meets requirements. It would go into effect with this year’s elections.

“If you’re out of prison, you can vote. If you’re not out of prison, you can’t,” Frierson said.

He and other supporters cited data from a 2016 survey by The Sentencing Project that found more than 6 million people in the U.S. — about 2.5 percent of the voting age population — could not vote because of a felony conviction. In six states – Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia — more than 7 percent of the adult population could not vote.

In Nevada, the disenfranchised rate of just over 4 percent is ninth-highest among states, with more than 89,000 people who can’t vote.

Committee members asked few questions Wednesday and made only supportive comments. Only one person testified in opposition, saying that felons should be required to complete prison or parole sentences before having voting rights restored.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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