A Missed Opportunity in Nevada

Today, Gov. Brian Sandoval ignored the bipartisan will of Nevada's elected representatives and vetoed A.B. 301, walking away from a significant opportunity to expand voting rights and realize justice in Nevada. The bill aimed to make Nevada's voting rights restoration process more efficient and help the state move closer to a fair and fully functioning democratic system.

June 17, 2011

On June 3, the Nevada legislature passed Assembly Bill 301, and today, Governor Sandoval ignored the bipartisan will of the legislature and vetoed A.B. 301.  By issuing a veto for this bill, Governor Sandoval failed to seize a significant opportunity to expand voting rights and support racial justice in Nevada. The bill had aimed to make the voting rights restoration process more efficient and help Nevada move closer to a fair and fully functioning democratic system.

A.B. 301 was written to streamline and simplify Nevada’s incredibly complicated patchwork of laws governing the restoration of voting rights after a criminal sentence. The bill would have automatically restored voting rights to anyone who honorably completes a felony sentence of imprisonment, probation, or parole.    The Brennan Center, along with key allies including the American Probation and Parole Association and the ACLU of Nevada, worked hard to shape and support this important voting rights bill. Brennan Center attorney Lee Rowland introduced the bill in March 2011 and again gave testimony in support of the bill in May of 2011. In the legislature, the bill had bipartisan support. As many who supported A.B. 301 testified, including the APPA, investing individuals in their democracy by giving them a vote – and a voice – is a proven way to reduce recidivism and protect public safety.  Furthermore, A.B. 301 would have been consistent with substantive reform that has taken place across the country. Since 1997, 19 states have eased the restoration process to varying degrees or restored voting rights for people with criminal convictions in their past.

Governor Sandoval’s decision to veto A.B. 301 marks a missed opportunity for restoration efforts in Nevada. Disenfranchisement after criminal conviction remains the most significant barrier to voting rights.  Nationally, 5.3 million American citizens are not allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction – 4 million of whom live, work, and raise families in their communities.  According to current disenfranchisement law, more than 40,000 Nevadans are unable to vote due to a past criminal conviction, half of whom have completed their full sentences and are living in the community. Nearly a third of the disenfranchised individuals in Nevada are African-American.  Unfortunately, Governor Sandoval failed to take advantage of a great opportunity to remove existing barriers to voting rights in Nevada.

Nevada’s voting rights restoration laws continue to be notoriously and unnecessarily complicated. Nevadans with felony convictions are permanently disenfranchised, unless the government approves individual rights restoration.  Nevada’s laws governing the restoration of civil rights are among the most restrictive in the country, and are difficult to navigate for both election officials and individuals with criminal histories.  A 2010 survey by the ACLU of Nevada examined widespread confusion by election officials over how Nevada’s restoration laws work, and who is entitled to cast a vote.  Because of the gubernatorial veto today, the confusion and misinformation about how voting rights can be restored in Nevada persists.

Felon disenfranchisement laws are a relic of our discriminatory past – and yet they remain a barrier to civic engagement and reentry.  With the veto of A.B. 301, Governor Sandoval disregarded the will of the legislature, ignored bipartisan support for the bill, and   missed his chance to make the Silver State a beacon for civil rights and racial justice.