EG01060801
Eric Gregory

When Julie Flynn completed her two-year probationary sentence in 2002 for burglary, she assumed her slate was clean in the eyes of the law. She would someday be able to resume something she’d always done — voting.

“I was more than a little upset when I found out I couldn’t,” said Flynn, who recently got a master’s degree and works as an outreach coordinator at an Omaha homeless shelter.

Many felons were surprised by the restriction, she said. Now, because of a recent change in state law and a public education effort announced Monday, Flynn and others will spread the news of what should come as a pleasant surprise to many of the 59,000 felons who live in Nebraska.

Felons at least two years removed from their sentences can now vote because of legislation introduced by Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln and approved by the Legislature last session. Senators had to override a veto by Gov. Dave Heineman to put the law on the books.

Voting-rights advocates and state officials aren’t sure how many felons may be eligible to vote because of the change.

“I’d say the great majority of them … will be eligible,” Schimek said. 

The campaign announced Monday to alert eligible felons they can vote is a cooperative project of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska and the Nebraska Voting Rights Coalition. The coalition is comprised of 13 groups, including the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, NAACP, and Archdiocese of Omaha Social Ministry Commission.

In passing the law, Nebraska joined a majority of states that restore voting rights at some point after felons complete their sentences.

The Nebraska Right to Vote Campaign will consist of more than passing out brochures. Government agencies will be assisted in educating felons about voting rights, groups that work with offenders will be given information on the new law, and workshops on the law will be conducted.

The previous voting ban had a disproportionate effect on blacks and Latinos, according to a group that advocates restoring voting rights. Right to Vote reported one in five black citizens of voting age in Nebraska was ineligible to vote under the previous law; one in seven Latinos was ineligible.

According to the state Department of Corrections, 40 percent of the state’s more than 4,000 inmates are racial or ethnic minorities.

Under the new law, felons seeking the right to vote must sign oaths on voter registration applications swearing they completed their sentences at least two years before registering. 

The veracity of the statements will not automatically be checked by county election commissioners because of cost concerns, said Peggy Adair, project coordinator of the Nebraska Right to Vote Campaign.

Lying on applications about meeting the two-year requirement is a felony with a penalty of up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Reach Nate Jenkins at 473-7223 or njenkins@journalstar.com.

League of Women Voters: http://www.lwv.org/

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