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Bill would allow jail inmates to vote, but not felons

CARSON CITY — Polling places could soon be required in county and city jails under a proposal introduced in the Nevada Legislature.

Senate Bill 162, introduced by state Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, would require jails to establish a polling place exclusively for prisoners.

Scheible said the bill won’t expand the voting population, but will instead make sure those in detention centers are still able to exercise the right to vote.

“As an attorney, especially as somebody who works in the criminal justice system, it’s really important to me that we don’t confuse our fundamental rights with punishment for crime,” she said. “What’s not okay is to have these extra consequences where people aren’t able to exercise their fundamental right to vote before they have gone through the judicial process to actually be convicted of a crime. That’s not fair.”

The bill, if passed, would also require jails to establish polling places for prisoners who are registered to vote in a different county than the one in which they are being held.

The legislation would not allow individuals convicted of a felony who haven’t had their right to vote restored to cast a ballot. The bill doesn’t apply to inmates at Nevada state prisons.

But the proposed legislation was slammed by Better Nevada PAC, a group closely associated with Gov. Joe Lombardo. In a statement, the group’s spokesperson John Burke took aim at Democrats in the Legislature.

“Nevada voters have made it clear that they want increased election integrity measures, but Democrats in the state Legislature would rather expend resources for violent felons than pursue common sense solutions like voter ID,” he said.

But Schieble called the statement “erroneous” because the bill applies to those in jail — serving misdemeanor sentences or under pretrial detainment — and not people in prison who have been convicted of a felony crime.

“This is about allowing people to vote who still have the right to vote, but are currently incarcerated,” Schieble said. “I also think that if you’re concerned that we can’t run a safe and fair and secure election inside a detention facility, then there’s a severe security problem in that detention facility.”

Republican Minority Leader P.K. O’Neill, R-Carson City, also raised concerns over the bill.

“As recent electoral results have clearly illustrated, voter access is not a problem in Nevada,” O’Neill said. “We have implemented some of the nation’s most expansive voter-access laws in the country in recent years, yet this bill implies otherwise by seeking yet more accommodations to vote. We will judge the bill on its merits if and when it reaches the Assembly — until then, we are dubious this legislation is in Nevada’s best interest.”

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter.

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