Nebraska Lawmakers Restore Felons' Voting Rights

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A coalition of liberal groups is hailing the state of Nebraska for restoring the voting rights of felons.

Although Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, a Republican, vetoed the bill on Wednesday, the state's unicameral legislature overrode his veto on Thursday by a 36-11 vote (six votes more than the 30 needed for an override).

The new law will automatically restore the voting rights of Nebraska felons two years after they complete their prison sentences or meet the terms of their parole or probation.

Right now, it takes a pardon to restore voting rights in Nebraska, but pardons aren't granted until at least ten years after a sentence is completed.

The new law is expected to affect thousands of former convicts, beginning in September.

"This is yet another great win for our democracy and the movement to end felony disfranchisement across the country," said Rashad Robinson of the Right to Vote Campaign, which assisted in the effort to let Nebraska felons vote.

The Right to Vote Campaign - a coalition that includes the ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the America Way and three other organizations -- said Nebraska now joins 36 other states in allowing people with felony convictions to vote.

It's only "fair," said State Sen. DiAnna Schimek, who authored the Nebraska bill. She said "reintegrating" felons back into society will benefit all Nebraskans.

But Gov. Heineman, in his veto message, said he believes that any restoration of voting rights "should be considered thoughtfully, on a case-by-case basis."

What about convicts who show no remorse for their crimes, asked a senator who opposed the bill.

"What we're really doing here is we're taking away the discretion of the Board of Pardons to handle these cases," Sen. Mike Foley was quoted as saying. "This is a one size fits all approach and I don't think one size fits all."

The Right to Vote Campaign says only five states permanently bar felons from voting. They include Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa, and the campaign is hoping to change that.

The underlying assumption seems to be that felons, if they vote at all, would be more likely than other segments of the population to vote for Democrats.

"It doesn't matter if you spent 4 years at Harvard or four years in Huntsville, your vote counts the same," The Right to Vote Campaign says on its website.

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