Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Nevada
A summary of current felony disenfranchisement policies and legislative advocacy in Nevada.
On June 4, 2017, Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law Assembly Bill 181 . Effective January 1st, 2019 the law will restore rights to Nevadans who received a “dishonorable discharge” from probation or parole, and institute a two-year waiting period before rights are restored for persons convicted of certain crimes classified as “category B.” Both of those categories had previously resulted in lifetime disenfranchisement.
Current Disenfranchisement Law (effective until January 1, 2019)
Since 2003, Nevada has had one of the most complex disenfranchisement laws in the country. Under current law, voting rights are automatically restored to people completing sentences for most first-time felony convictions. The following are permanently disenfranchised unless they are pardoned or granted a restoration of civil rights by a court, people with: (1) “category A” felonies; (2) “category B” felonies that resulted in substantial bodily harm to the victim; or (3) multiple felony convictions of any category that arose from separate instances. Individuals that received a “dishonorable discharge” from parole or probation permanently lose voting rights unless pardoned.
Before 2003, all felony convictions resulted in a citizen's lifetime disenfranchisement unless they were pardoned or granted a restoration of civil rights by a court.
Recently Enacted Disenfranchisement Law (effective January 1, 2019)
On June 4, 2017, Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law Assembly Bill 181, a law that will restore rights to thousands of Nevadans with past convictions who previously were permanently disenfranchised. Effective January 1, 2019, Nevada’s law will no longer permanently disenfranchise citizens solely because they received a “dishonorable discharge” from probation or parole, and persons with certain convictions classified as “category B” will have their rights restored two years after completion of sentence.
A broad group of criminal justice professionals and civic organizations testified in support of the bill, including the: Nevada District Attorneys Association, Washoe County Public Defender, Clark County Public Defender, ACLU of Nevada, League of Women Voters of Nevada, Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Libertarian Party of Nevada, and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. The Guinn Center for Policy Priorities published an op-ed calling on the governor to support the bill.
The new law comes six years after Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed a more expansive voting rights restoration bill. A.B. 181’s sponsor, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, stated that his bill was an attempt to address the governor’s concerns about that earlier legislation. See below for a sampling of the press coverage of the effort.
- Sandoval signs 35 bills into law as session nears end, Ben Botkin, Las Vegas Review-Journal (June 4, 2017)
- Nevada Lawmakers Consider Giving Rights Back To Felons, Paul Nelson, 2News (May 23, 2017)
- Felon civil rights bill clears Nevada Assembly panel, Ben Botkin, Las Vegas Review-Journal (May 9, 2017)
- Nevada Democrats are trying to restore the voting rights of ex-felons, Seth A. Richardson, IndyStar (Mar. 15, 2017)
- In push for criminal justice reform, Democratic leaders advocate voting rights for ex-felons, Megan Messerly, The Nevada Independent (Mar. 8, 2017)
Other Recent Developments
Also in 2017, the Nevada legislature passed and Governor Sandoval signed a more incremental bill, Senate Bill 125, reducing the waiting periods before citizens subject to the prior lifetime disenfranchisement scheme could petition a court to seal the records relating to their conviction, which is one pathway to restoration of the right to vote. Given the expansion of automatic rights restoration effected by Assembly Bill 181, the impact of this bill is not as significant as it would have been otherwise, but it still moves up the opportunity for restoration for, among others, citizens convicted of "category A" felonies, certain "category B" felonies, and those convicted of multiple felonies.
In 2011, Nevada legislature attempted more sweeping reform than they were ultimately able to achieve in 2017, when they passed Assembly Bill 301, which would have simplified Nevada’s complicated law by automatically restoring voting rights to anyone who fully completes a sentence of imprisonment, probation, or parole. However, on June 17 of that year, Gov. Sandoval ignored the bipartisan will of the legislature and vetoed the bill. The Brennan Center gave testimony in support of the bill on two occasions. The American Probation and Parole Association also supported the bill.
- A Missed Opportunity in Nevada, Lee Rowland (June 17, 2011)
- Testimony of Lee Rowland Before the Nevada Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, Lee Rowland (May 12, 2011)
- Testimony of Lee Rowland Before the Nevada Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee, Lee Rowland (Mar. 22, 2011)
Brennan Center Publications
- Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
- The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
- My First Vote (2009)
- Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions.
- De Facto Disenfranchisement, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
- A report on how complex laws, poorly informed officials, and misinformation lead to the de facto disenfranchisement of citizens with past criminal convictions who are eligible to vote.
- Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
- A piece examining the historical roots of criminal disenfranchisement laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.
For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in Nevada, please contact Makeda Yohannes, at firstname.lastname@example.org.