LAS VEGAS — Elected officials and advocates alike said Tuesday that it will be next year before Nevada state lawmakers can try again to enact a law to restore voting rights to ex-felons.
Nevada State Sen. Joe Hardy, R-Boulder City, backed a measure that passed the Legislature in 2011 to restore voting rights to convicts who have served their time.
The bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, who rejected supporters’ arguments that the measure would eliminate confusion at the polls and streamline voter registration.
Hardy and Tod Story, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, noted the Assembly and Senate don’t convene again until next February. That means that at least through the 2014 voting cycle, Nevada ex-convicts who have served their time will be barred from the voting booth.
“It is a dirty political game to keep felons from voting,” said Valencia Burch, a Las Vegas businesswoman who organizes Martin Luther King Day events and floated an online petition in 2010 calling for the restoration of voting rights for former state prisoners.
“Generally, people who are incarcerated are black and brown men,” Burch told The Associated Press. “As a result, that voice is being suppressed.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder focused debate on the issue Tuesday in Washington, saying policies in Nevada and 10 other states that don’t automatically restore voting rights to convicts who have served their time disproportionately hurt racial minorities.
“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder said.
Hardy said he expects a law will be introduced in the next Nevada Legislature, and he said he thought fairness and forgiveness were the overriding issues in the debate.
“I don’t look at it as a race issue,” Hardy said. “If someone was honorably released after serving their time and punishment, they’re in a good place for what I’ll call ‘repented.’ At that point, we ought to be as forgiving as our maker is.”
Story called voting a fundamental right, and he said any barriers to voting for formerly incarcerated individuals should be dismantled.
“But clearly, in Nevada, it’s not going to happen until 2015,” he said. “For legislatures in other states that meet full time or annually, they have the option.”
State Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, said Tuesday she thought the question deserved “robust discussion” before a broad appointive panel called the state Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice.
Sandoval spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said Sandoval’s 2011 veto letter speaks for itself.
In the letter, the governor pointed to existing state law that restores voting rights to convicts who complete their prison sentence, probation or parole; those whose court record is sealed; or those who are granted a pardon with voting privileges.
Sandoval, a former federal judge, said he felt the 2011 bill overlooked the severity of certain offenses and altered what he deemed “just punishment.”
He also noted that the Nevada law wouldn’t restore an ex-felon’s right to hold elective office or serve as a juror in a civil lawsuit.