Bid to re-enfranchise Nebraska ex-felons falls short

An effort to restore voting rights to former felons in Nebraska has come up short.

A bill to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’s veto of a measure re-enfranchising ex-felons failed on a 23-23 vote Monday. Thirty votes in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, where lawmakers are officially non-partisan, were needed to override the veto.

The original legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Justin Wayne, would have restored voting rights to felons upon completion of their sentence. Currently, they must wait two years.

Ricketts, a Republican, vetoed the measure last Tuesday.

“We are disappointed in his veto and what it says to those 7,000 voters impacted by the two-year wait period,” Bri McLarty Huppert of Nebraskans for Civic Reform said in a statement.

In his veto message, Ricketts wrote that the current system gives ex-felons “an incentive to maintain a clean record.”

One lawmaker who voted Monday to support the veto, Sen. Lydia Brasch, offered a different reason. Brasch “questioned whether felons would be engaged enough with their communities to cast informed ballots right out of prison,” The Omaha World-Herald reported.

Brasch’s concern is in line with a long tradition of conservative thought, which has resurfaced lately, holding that those perceived to be less informed or less educated should be discouraged or barred from voting.

Nationally, an estimated 6.1 million Americans, disproportionately non-white, are barred from voting because of a past crime.

Several states, including Maryland and Virginia, have taken steps in recent years to make it easier for former felons to vote. And an effort is gaining steam to re-enfranchise ex-felons in Florida, where over a quarter of felon disenfranchisement victims live.

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