Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne introduced a voting rights bill Thursday to give felons who have served their time the ability to vote upon release.
The bill (LB75) would take away a two-year waiting time for released prisoners with felony convictions.
Shakur Abdullah of Omaha has been waiting for his chance to vote since he was released from a Nebraska prison a year ago. He was convicted for two felonies at age 16 -- murder and shooting with the intent to kill during a robbery, for which he was given a life sentence.
He was resentenced in 2015 as part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave judges the option of sentencing juveniles to something other than an automatic life term. He was released in January 2016.
Since then, he has been working on getting legislation passed that would allow him and other convicted felons who have served their time the right to vote without the wait.
"This is something that is very personal to me," Abdullah said. "I think it has the ability to be something that supersedes my own selfish motives of being just something for me. This will help, I think, a lot of people in my situation."
Since Abdullah entered prison as a teenager, he has never voted.
It's the right thing to do, he said. Once a sentence is satisfied, and a person becomes a tax-paying citizen, they should have the same rights as anyone else, and not be treated as a second-class citizen.
Nicole Porter, director of advocacy for the Washington-based The Sentencing Project, a national research and advocacy group, said in a news release that studies have found voting is a pro-social behavior linked to reducing crime and improving public safety.
The two-year wait period was passed into law in 2005, the result of a compromise when some senators balked at restoring voting rights immediately. Prior to that, a full pardon was required to get voting rights restored.
ACLU of Nebraska did a 2016 survey, finding that county election officials in the state were confused about the two-year waiting period. Half of the state's 93 counties' election officials had initial responses indicating they didn't know or have accurate information about whether former felons could register to vote.
Approximately 7,819 former felons in Nebraska were restricted from voting in the 2010 elections, the ACLU reported. Every year, the Nebraska Department of Corrections estimates 2,000 people with a felony conviction complete their sentence.
Abdullah said voting reengages former inmates in society. It's also a citizenship issue.
"The criminal conviction in and of itself doesn't abrogate a person's citizenship," he said. "So because that's the case, immediately upon discharge, that citizen should be able to vote."