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Lawmakers to Consider Restoring Voter Rights for Former Felons

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Monday, February 7, 2022   

Lawmakers are considering a bill which would restore Nebraskans' right to vote immediately after they complete their felony sentences, instead of having to wait two years.

Jason Witmer, board member of the ACLU of Nebraska, spent two decades in the criminal-justice system after getting into what he calls serious trouble as a teenager. He said Legislative Bill 158 would encourage more people reentering society to educate themselves about programs affecting their families, and to get more involved in improving communities.

"Individuals that get into the voting process more often than not are individuals that are interested in what policies, what laws dictate our life, and making policies and laws better," Witmer contended.

Witmer was released from custody in 2016, and has been working, volunteering and paying taxes ever since. Under current law, he will not be able to cast a ballot until 2027 because his parole doesn't end until 2025.

Backers of the two-year waiting period have argued it provides a carrot to encourage good behavior when people reenter communities, and helps reduce recidivism.

Witmer believes communities would actually be safer, and fewer people with felony records would return to prison, if the measure is signed into law. Witmer added when people have a voice, which is what the right to vote represents, they feel respected as a part of the community and are more likely to respect others.

"The deeper investment that an individual has in their own community, the safer and more productive they are in their community and all communities around them," Witmer asserted. "That is one of the ultimate benefits of this law."

The bill cleared the Nebraska Legislature's Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on a six to one vote, with one member absent. Nebraska is one of just 11 states imposing a special requirement or waiting period for people to restore their voting rights after serving their sentence.

Disclosure: ACLU of Nebraska contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Immigrant Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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