Updated July 1, 2019 - 7:06 pm
Jovan Jackson wanted his voice heard in last year’s elections.
He helped on the midterm campaigns. He advocated for people to get out to vote. But Jackson knew that when it came time for the ballots to be tallied, one with his vote on it would not be among them. Jackson, 27, was released from prison in January 2018 after serving time for conspiracy to commit robbery.
With the obstacles and difficulties felons faced in getting their right to vote restored, Jackson found himself on the sidelines, knowing he had no say in choosing Nevada’s next set of leaders.
“You feel like a second-class citizen,” Jackson said Monday. “I felt like I wasn’t part of my community, my country, my state. I felt left out. When you know that you don’t have the right to do something, you just care less.”
Monday represented new opportunity for Jackson and an estimated 77,000 other felons in the Silver State who automatically had their right to vote restored, as Assembly Bill 431 went into effect. The legislation — sponsored by Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas — will automatically restore voting rights to felons when they are released from prison.
Jackson, other community advocates and current and former elected officials, including Attorney General Aaron Ford, Assemblymen Steve Yeager and William McCurdy and former state Assemblywoman and Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (who proposed a similar bill in 2003) celebrated the bill going into effect Monday at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas.
“By restoring ex-offenders rights to participate, we are able to facilitate a sense of pride in them that makes them less likely to recidivate,” Ford said. “The right to vote is one of the most critical, one of the most sacred rights we have.”
Ossiris Lynch, 40, a barber in Las Vegas who was released from prison last September, said that knowing his voice will be heard in elections going forward felt like “some weight lifted off my shoulders.”
“I definitely felt like my citizenship didn’t matter, but then again, I pay taxes. Now it makes sense. I pay taxes and have a say,” Lynch said. “It means I can choose the right person to represent me nationally, so I can choose the right person statewide to carry my voice nationwide.”
Lynch said he hopes that the move opens up more opportunities for felons to more easily reintegrate into society, like getting into housing where being a felon can often be an impediment.
Nevada’s previous laws on voting rights restoration for felons were considered some of the more complicated in the country.
Before 2003, all felony convictions resulted in a loss of voting rights and the ability to serve on a jury, unless the person petitioned a court to have them restored. A law passed by lawmakers in 2003 set out various parameters for the restoration of rights, depending on level of felony and whether someone had been honorably discharged from parole or probation.
But that petitioning process to restore rights was rarely used in Nevada. According to the Campaign Legal Center, 281 felons petitioned courts to have their rights restored from 1990 to 2011, or an average of just 13 per year.
AB431 puts Nevada into the growing list of states making it easier for felons to vote, and Ford is launching a new public information campaign to spread the word on that tens of thousands of Nevadans have now had their right to vote restored. That campaign is expected to be rolled out of the next few months.
For Jackson, he wasted little time in taking advantage of his newly restored rights; he registered to vote during Monday’s event, a moment he called “empowering.”
“I feel great. I feel liberated. I feel like an American citizen,” Jackson said. “I’ve got something to celebrate besides the Fourth of July.”
Review-Journal staff writer Blake Apgar contributed to this story.