Nevada Governor Signs Bill Restoring Voting Rights to Former Felons

May 30, 2019 by Dan McCue

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill Wednesday that will restore the voting rights of ex-felons, a measure he said will re-enfranchise 77,000 people when it goes into effect on July 1.

Sisolak, a Democrat and outspoken proponent of election reforms ranging from same-day registration to expanded early voting, announced his signing of the bill, AB431, via Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

He also signed a second bill, AB192, establishing a process for sealing the records of people convicted of an offense that has been decriminalized — a move made necessary due to the state’s legalization of marijuana.

In his tweets, Sisolak said the pair of bills “restore fairness and justice to thousands of Nevadans.”

“I’m so excited about the positive impact these bills will have on our communities, especially communities of color,” he said.

Prior to signing the bills, the governor told those assembled in his office he “firmly believes we should be doing everything we can to expand access to the ballot box, not restrict it.”

“This also includes people who have paid their debts to society after committing a crime. Not only is restoring their right to vote the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do,” he said.

With Sisolak’s signature, Nevada becomes the 38th state to automatically restore voting rights to those released from prison. The District of Columbia has a similar law.

The Nevada Legislature passed the voting rights measure on May 23. Once it goes into effect, it will immediately allow ex-felons to vote, including those convicted in another state.

The bill also allows people convicted of a crime, but not imprisoned, to cast a ballot. The measure applies retroactively to previously released offenders.

All eight Republicans in the state Senate opposed the bill, arguing it went too easy on people convicted of serious, violent crimes. Despite their opposition, the bill passed the chamber with a 13-8 vote.

However, three Republicans in the state Assembly joined their 29 Democratic colleagues in passing the measure by a 32-9 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk.

“Nevada is turning the page on outdated laws in our criminal justice system that punish individuals long after they have served their time,” said state Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson in a written statement.

Frierson, who sponsored AB 431, went on to say that his bill “seeks to help people as they transition back into society.

“The point of the bill is clear,” he said. “When men and women have completed their sentence and rejoin society, they should be able to fully embrace civic engagement, and that includes voting.”

Nevada Democrats have been working to increase voter turnout after winning both the governorship and the state legislature during the 2018 elections. It has been estimated that the new law will re-enfranchise more than 3% of Nevada’s voting-age population.

Also pending in the legislature is a bill that would automatically register people to vote when they get their drivers’ licenses as well as allowing for same-day voter registration.

Among the organizations who had been urging Sisolak to sign the bill was the Campaign Legal Center, in Washington, D.C., which launched a national campaign in August 2018 to restore voting rights to ex-felons nationwide.

By signing the law, said Danielle Lang, co-director of voting rights and redistricting at the center, Sisolak took Nevada from being one of the most restrictive states for voting rights restoration to one of the most inclusive.

“Not only does this bill legally re-enfranchise tens of thousands of Nevadans, it also removes the confusing administrative hurdles that prevented previously eligible voters from ever realizing their rights,” Lang said.

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