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Ricketts vetoes bill that would give ex-felons right to vote after serving sentence

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Gov. Pete Ricketts on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have allowed ex-felons to bypass a two-year waiting period and vote as soon as they complete a prison sentence or probation. 

Former felons and others who supported the bill had testified that people who have completed their sentences are expected to rejoin society by being good citizens and paying taxes. Without the right to vote, some lose their energy and enthusiasm to participate in society. 

In his veto letter, Ricketts said that while the rehabilitation of criminals is an important goal, the immediate restoration of voting rights is not the answer. 

About 30 percent of felons commit another crime within a few years after release from prison, he said. While supporters of the bill contend being able to vote increases civic engagement and helps to reduce the risk of committing more crimes, studies have failed to demonstrate a link between restoring voting rights and reduced recidivism, he said. 

Nebraska's recidivism rate is 31.3 percent, defined as people who were discharged from prison in fiscal year 2013 and returned to prison in the next three fiscal years. 

"Requiring convicted felons to wait before allowing them to vote provides an incentive to maintain a clean record and avoid subsequent convictions," Ricketts said in his veto letter to the Legislature. 

Ricketts also has concerns that restoring the right to vote contradicts the process set out in Nebraska's constitution. The sole power of restoring civil rights to felons rests with the Board of Pardons, he said. And the Legislature may not circumvent the constitution. 

"LB75 is attempting to create the equivalent of a legislative pardon," he said. "This is not permissible under the constitution." 

Wayne could not be immediately reached to comment on the veto. On the three votes on the bill, Wayne had 27 to 32 votes of support. The final reading vote was 27-13, with 7 senators present not voting.  

Shakur Abdullah of Omaha, who served a sentence for two felonies he was convicted of at age 16, has been waiting for his chance to vote since he was released from a Nebraska prison about a year ago.

He said Thursday he plans to try to muster support to get enough votes to override the veto, if Wayne decides to do that.

The argument Ricketts uses that a two-year waiting period gives ex-felons an incentive to maintain a clean record is nonsensical, Abdullah said. It also smacks of increasing a penalty for an infraction after it has been committed, and double jeopardy. 

When released, a person has fully satisfied the sentence he or she was given, Abdullah said. The governor is saying that doesn't mean anything, that the state is going to tack on another sentence without the benefit of a judge or jury. 

Former Lincoln Sen. DiAnna Schimek has argued that the unnecessary delay laid out in current law means Nebraskans aren’t getting the opportunity to participate in their democracy.

Low-income people and people of color are more likely to end up behind bars in Nebraska, she said. Each year, approximately 2,000 Nebraskans complete their felony sentences and return to their communities. 

"Once someone has served the time, he or she is once again our neighbor and should be able to have a voice in conversations about property taxes, schools and elected officials," she said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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