Carson City – Nevada would become the 15th state to restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences if Assembly Bill 431, which passed the Assembly on Tuesday, becomes law.
Hear an audio report from Suzanne Potter.
Currently in Nevada, voting rights only can be restored two years after a person’s release, and only for people convicted of nonviolent crimes who petition the court where they were convicted.
The Rev. Ralph Williamson, senior pastor at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in North Las Vegas and president of the Faith Organizing Alliance, described Nevadans out of prison right now as being “doubly penalized.”
“Individuals who have served their time and have paid their price, they should have their rights and same privileges once they have been released,” he said. “They should have a chance for a new start and be given the same rights as any other citizen.”
By some estimates, 90,000 people have been disenfranchised in Nevada, or about 4% of the population.
Opponents of the measure have cited moral reasons, and have said people who have been convicted of violent crimes are unfit to weigh in on public policy.
Statistics show that African-Americans are arrested and convicted at much higher rates than their proportion of the population. Williamson said he thinks this change would give the community a greater voice to reform the system.
“People of color, mostly African-Americans, represent the larger proportion of individuals that are locked up, and many are locked up behind laws that need to be changed,” he said. “This will have a major voice in racial justice.”
Nevada’s current law is considered relatively strict. Two states – Maine and Vermont – allow people to vote even when they’re in prison. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia restore that right only after a person has completed their sentence and parole terms. Laws in five other states are similar to Nevada’s in that voting-rights restoration depends on the type of crime and must be ordered by a judge.
The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote. The legislative session ends in June.
Details of AB 431 are online at leg.state.nv.us.