LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Convicted felons who finish their prison sentences will still have to wait two years before they can vote in Nebraska, after state lawmakers on Monday fell short of the support needed to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of a bill that would have eliminated the waiting period.
Senators needed 30 votes to override the governor, but the vote was 23-23. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, said the vote is a dark cloud over the Legislature.
“A vote against this override is a vote in favor of a past that is based and founded in racism, exclusion and fear,” Wayne said.
Wayne said the state’s felon disenfranchisement law, like similar laws around the country, stems from the desire of post-Civil War lawmakers to stop newly freed slaves from voting. Felon voting laws still disproportionately affect people of color, who make up about 15 percent of Nebraska’s population but nearly half of its prison population.
States in recent years have moved away from felon disenfranchisement, and 37 states now have less restrictive laws than Nebraska.
Senators voted 46-0 last week to allow convicted felons to possess archery equipment or hunting knives. They should have the same support for restoring voting rights, said Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete.
“We trust you enough to carry a deadly weapon for archery purposes or hunting purposes or recreation purposes,” Ebke said. “We trust you enough to pick up a pencil and mark a ballot.”
Ricketts said the bill would violate the state’s constitutional ban on voting for felons who have not had all civil rights restored. Attorney General Doug Peterson wrote to Ebke late last week to say he could not give an opinion on the bill’s constitutionality because that would require looking at the 2005 law that created the two-year waiting period. The 2005 law has never been challenged in court.
Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, who voted to sustain the governor’s veto after previously voting for the bill, said incarcerated people aren’t engaged in their communities. They should start working and take two years to learn about issues before being able to vote, she said.
“Two years is such a small, fast window of time,” she said. “Two years goes by like nothing.”
Brasch and Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, who voted for the bill three times before voting against overriding the veto, said they weren’t bowing to political pressure. A promoted tweet from Ricketts’ office urged followers to tell their senators to sustain his veto, and supporters of the bill said the governor was calling senators promising not to give money to election opponents if they sided with him.
Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said no taxpayer money had been spent promoting social media posts. He said the governor worked to sustain his veto but allegations that he mentioned funding candidates who opposed his veto were completely false.
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