Proposal would end felon disenfranchisement

Nebraskans who have committed a felony other than treason would be able to vote while incarcerated under a proposed constitutional amendment considered Feb. 24 by the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist06' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh'>Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh</a>
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh

LR10CA, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, would repeal the current prohibition on felon voting until two years after completion of a sentence or probation, unless the individual was convicted of treason. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would be placed on the 2022 general election ballot.

Cavanaugh said the current policy is not a deterrent to crime and is rooted in racism. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Black Nebraskans are 4.6 percent of the state’s population but 26.9 percent of the state’s prisoners, she said.

“I would challenge you to find someone who is incarcerated who stopped before committing a crime and thought ‘If I do this, I won’t get to vote for president,’” Cavanaugh said. “[Disenfranchisement] isn’t related to crime. It is something we do to marginalize the population of people that are incarcerated.”

Law student Deanna Hobbs testified in support of the proposal. Felon voting restrictions are incompatible with democracy, she said, adding that felon disenfranchisement disproportionally affects Black residents in Nebraska.

“Deprivation of the right to vote is not an inherent or necessary aspect of criminal punishment,” Hobbs said.

Westin Miller of Civic Nebraska also spoke in support. He said voting rights should be protected as fervently as the right to free speech and the right to bear arms.

“The right to vote in enshrined in four different [U.S.] constitutional amendments,” Miller said. “Citizenship is not a right that expires upon misbehavior.”

No one appeared at the hearing to testify in opposition to LR10CA and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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