Unlocking the vote for thousands of Nebraskans

Punishing people by restricting their right to vote for two years beyond their sentence is archaic, excessive, and unjustified. LB158 can change this. 

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This week at the Nebraska Legislature, the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee will consider a pair of proposals that would re-enfranchise thousands of Nebraskans. You can weigh in on these important pieces of legislation in one of several ways.

THE ISSUE

Currently, Nebraska has one of the most restrictive felony disenfranchisement practices in the nation – we make these citizens wait an additional two years after completion of their sentence, including parole or probation, before they are allowed to vote again. 

LB158, introduced this year by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, would end this arbitrary waiting period, which has been on the books since 2005. Introducers of the bill that established the extra two-year waiting period in 2005 have been upfront about the fact that the waiting period was a political compromise to advance the bill from committee, not a component with any substantial policy value.

Close watchers of the Legislature are familiar with the effort to modernize Nebraska’s policies in this area. In 2017, Sen. Wayne introduced a bill to eliminate the waiting period. The bill advanced from committee 6-1-1 and was passed by the Legislature but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Similar bills were introduced in 2018 and in 2020, but neither advanced from committee.

In addition, State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate criminal disenfranchisement entirely, except in cases of treason. Read more about this separate initiative, which is known as LR10CA.

THE PROPOSALS

LB158: Eliminate two-year waiting period to vote
Hearing at 9:30 am Feb. 24 | Room 1507 | Nebraska State Capitol

Punishing people by restricting their right to vote for a period beyond their sentence is archaic, excessive, and unjustified. Felony disenfranchisement also has an undeniably nefarious and racist history, and it continues to have negative impacts – with a disproportionate effect on Black and Brown voters. LB158 will take Nebraska from our currently extreme position to a policy that is aligned with nearly every other state. This solution is moderate, measured, and would right a significant wrong.

LR10CA: Felony re-enfranchisement
Hearing at 9:30 am Feb. 24 | Room 1507 | Nebraska State Capitol

It is likely unwise to treat all felony convictions the same. Maine and Vermont have allowed voting from prison for years, and their democratic processes remain fully intact. Voting does not weaken sentences, and allowing incarcerated people to vote puts no one’s safety at risk; in fact, it may actually result in public safety benefits. 

4 WAYS TO SUPPORT VOTING RIGHTS

1. Come to Room 1507 at the State Capitol at 9:30 am Feb. 24 to testify in favor of one or both proposals. In-person testimony is generally limited to five minutes, although the chair of each committee has the discretion to modify that time limit.

2. Submit written testimony in person. Committees are accepting written testimony for public hearings on bills or resolutions as a way for those who are concerned about safety but wish to have their testimony submitted, their name recorded on the committee statement, and included in the formal committee hearing record as if they had testified in person. You must submit 12 copies of your testimony in person between 8:30 and 9:30 am CST at the committee room where the hearing is set to take place. See this page for more guidelines and requirements for submitting written testimony in person.

3. Email a position letter stating your support of one or both of these proposals to govpl@leg.ne.gov. If you can’t make it to the State Capitol on Feb. 24 or don’t feel safe testifying in person, this is the most effective method to share your voice. You must do this no later than noon CST this Tuesday, Feb. 23.

To be part of the public record, your email must include:

> your name and address;

> your position for the measure(s); and

> a sentence requesting that your letter be included in the record.

4. Share Katrina’s story. Watch our video, Katrina’s Story: Expanding the Franchise. Then, share it in your networks and encourage others to get involved.

LEARN MORE

Want to see how Nebraska stacks up against other states in terms of allowing its returning citizens back into civic life? Interested in the history of felony disenfranchisement in our state and the United States? See our issue information page on felony disenfranchisement.

 2021 VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCACY GUIDE 

We’re tracking nearly three dozen initiatives at the statehouse this year related to elections, voting, and voting rights. Here’s a handy guide to several of them, as well as specific ways to ensure your voice is heard as state lawmakers consider them. Feel free to keep our 2021 Voter Advocacy Toolkit nearby throughout the current session to assist you in your activism and advocacy.

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