Understanding LB83

The legislation brings Nebraska into better alignment with the rest of the country on re-enfranchisement, and allows returning citizens every tool to successfully re-enter society. Let’s get it done, Nebraska.

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As you probably know, Civic Nebraska is in full support of LB83, which proposes the elimination of Nebraska’s mandatory two-year waiting period to vote on returning citizens after they’ve completed their felony sentences. The bill was introduced in the Nebraska Legislature by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha in January and will have a March 6 public hearing; legislators passed a similar bill in 2017 but it was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Our state’s current policy is one of the most restrictive in the nation. It’s time to change that. And judging from the feedback we’ve received since publishing this video earlier this month, a majority of Nebraskans agree.

The video tells the story of Katrina, who re-entered society without the right to vote, and her views on why that matters so much in order for citizens to re-integrate successfully. Tens of thousands of you have seen the video and have shared your support for the legislation.

But, as with all content that goes viral, the video also attracted a few comments on social media suggesting that misunderstandings still persist about what LB83 would and would not do. As LB83 progresses through the Legislature, we want the facts to be crystal clear. In that spirit, here are a few of those comments, followed by our answers.

> We already have a law in place to get felony conviction back on the voter rolls. Two years is not that big a deal.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but we should always be careful not to settle for bad policy just because “it could be worse.” The better question to ask when evaluating policy is, “could this be better?” In this case, the answer is certainly yes. We could be promoting policies that make it easier, not harder, for citizens to re-integrate.

> If you don’t want to suffer the consequences, then don’t do the crime.

Agreed. But the two-year waiting period LB83 seeks to eliminate occurs after someone’s sentence is already completed. We think that if you served your time, you should get to vote. To punish someone beyond their sentence is wrong.

> Felons should have to prove that they can be good citizens before earning back the right to vote.

Because part of being a good citizen is voting, we’re making that nearly impossible. Voting is one of the simplest ways citizens can feel investment in their community, and feeling invested makes it less likely you’ll recommit a crime. This is why the International Association of Chiefs of Police has long endorsed civil rights restoration upon completion of sentence. They believe it’s in the interest of public safety to let returning citizens vote.

> This is just a way to get more Democrats registered.

We don’t know the political affiliation of Nebraska inmates, but we’re interested in all citizens being able to vote once they’ve served their time regardless of what political party they might tend to support.

> Felons will re-offend whether they can vote or not.

Evidence in other states clearly shows that the right to vote makes it less likely someone will re-offend. The Florida Department of Corrections measures the three-year recidivism rate (return to prison within three years of release) of the entire state. It’s consistently around 25 percent. Between 2009-2011, they also measured the recidivism rate for Floridians who had their voting rights restored. It was 4.5 percent, less than one-fifth of the overall average.

LB83 is simple and straightforward, brings Nebraska into closer alignment with the rest of the country on this issue, and allows returning citizens every tool to successfully re-enter society. Let’s get it done, Nebraska.

— Westin Miller and Steve Smith

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