Twelve years ago, Katrina Thomas served six months in prison, thinking she would never be able to vote again because of a felony conviction. She found out when she was released that the Legislature had passed a bill in 2005, the year she entered prison, that allowed her to vote two years after her sentence was complete. Now she is fighting for others to remove the two-year wait and allow them the right to vote as soon as their sentences are complete. Thomas testified Wednesday in front of the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on a bill (LB75), introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, that would repeal the waiting period. Before 2005, the state had a lifetime voting ban for those convicted of felonies.
Wayne, who intends to make LB75 his priority bill, told the committee the roots of disenfranchisement were racial, and the state cannot escape the context of that history.
After the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870 gave citizens the right to vote, regardless of race, states created disenfranchisement laws, using the word felons as the vehicle. In Alabama in 1901, for example, a state senator said he knew a white man who beat his wife would not be charged with a felony, but he couldn’t say the same about a black man.