A Nebraska legislative committee advanced a bill Wednesday that would give people convicted of crimes the right to vote when they complete their sentences. Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha told the committee the state’s 2005 law that allows felons to vote two years after they finish their sentences doesn’t do enough. A bill he sponsored and intends to designate as his priority, increasing the odds lawmakers will vote on it, would restore voting rights to felons as soon as they complete their sentences, including any parole or probation. It would affect about 7,800 felons in Nebraska, including Shakur Abdullah, who was released from prison last year. Abdullah, who served 41 years for shooting two men and killing one when he was 16, told the committee he’s never been able to vote. He now helps others involved in the criminal justice system.
“My felony conviction hasn’t forfeited my citizenship,” he said. “When you think of this as a faceless issue, I want you to remember my face.”
Wayne said the state’s constitutional ban on voting for felons who haven’t had their civil rights restored was a direct response to the 14th and 15th amendments, which asserted that former slaves and other people of color were citizens with the right to vote. And he said the law still disenfranchises a disproportionate number of racial minorities, who in the last census made up 15 percent of Nebraska’s population and nearly half of its prisoners.