State lawmakers seek to restore voting rights for felons

State lawmakers seek to restore voting rights for felons by introducing a bill and constitutional amendment.
Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 6:58 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -Once they’ve completed their sentences, those who were convicted of a felony do what they can to reintegrate into their communities. Part of that means waiting two years to be able to cast a ballot.

Now, a few state lawmakers want to do away with that. On Friday in the rotunda at the Nebraska State Capitol, State Senator Justin Wayne and Machaela Cavanaugh were joined by the Voting Rights Restoration Coalition. They’re supporting a bill that would let people vote immediately after their sentences were completed, as well as an amendment that would never remove the right for most felons.

10/11 NOW spoke with advocates who have been impacted by Nebraska’s current laws.

Shakur Abdullah went to prison at 17-years-old, serving a 41-year sentence for first-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill. Abdullah said he didn’t vote for the first time until he was 60 years old.

“It was quite the experience to be able to vote for the first time to know that my voice was now being heard like every other citizen,” Abdullah said.

Right now, those who were convicted of a felony and completed their sentence must wait two years before they can vote again.

“It gets you civically engaged,” Abdullah said. “Gets you to a point to where you don’t feel marginalized anymore, like you are walking around with a scarlet letter.”

Senator Wayne and Cavanaugh want to change that.

Senator Cavanaugh introduced a constitutional amendment that would allow people with felony convictions other than treason to keep their voting rights. If passed, it would then go to voters for the final say.

Senator Wayne has introduced Bill LB 20, which would restore voting rights immediately after a felony sentence has been completed, including probation and parole.

“I am in that category,” said Demetrius Gatson, an advocate for voting reform. “I was released in 2018. From the Nebraska Department of Corrections, and I am still unable to vote.”

Gatson was convicted for forgery and issuing a bad check back in 2008 and has been on parole since 2018. Gatson said she won’t be able to vote under current laws until 2030.

“That’s very hard to not be able to exercise your electoral votes, you have many things that you that you have a voice in, or that matter to you, or some things hit home,” Gatson said. “And you’re still not able to exercise that vote. "

A similar bill was passed by the legislature in 2017, but was ultimately vetoed by Former Governor Pete Ricketts. At the time, then-Governor Ricketts said it would violate the constitutional ban on voting for felons who hadn’t had all civil rights restored. Each proposal will now go to committee.