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Democracy Tarnished in the Silver State

Rebecca Gasca,
ACLU of Nevada
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June 17, 2011

We had hoped that, amidst a sea of restrictive voting initiatives across the country, Nevada would be a beacon of light. But today, with a stroke of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s pen, the Silver State jumped on the voter suppression bandwagon.

Right now in Nevada, if you’re convicted of a felony, good luck figuring out how to get your voting rights back. The state’s absurdly complicated and overly punitive voter disfranchisement law bars an estimated 43,000 people with felony convictions from voting. (Across the country, these laws keep more than 5 million people out of the political process.)

If you get your hands on a copy of the ACLU of Nevada’s brochure (which needs two full pages to explain Nevada’s policy), you’ll learn that some people get their rights back when they finish their sentences, while others have to petition their courts of conviction for restoration. Those with federal convictions need — wait for it — presidential pardons in order to vote again.

Recognizing this mess, the legislature passed a bill to simplify and improve the state’s law, but Gov. Sandoval has just vetoed it. So much for expanding democracy.

Not only is Nevada’s disfranchisement law undemocratic, it’s a voter registrar’s nightmare. Indeed, when the ACLU of Nevada surveyed the 17 county clerk offices around the state, we found that not a single elections employee was able to provide a comprehensive answer to the question of whether people who had completed their felony sentences could vote.

If even the highly capable individuals charged with administering Nevada’s election laws are unable to comprehend all of the law’s twists and turns, how can we expect the voting public to understand it?

And it’s not just the ACLU and our ally the Brennan Center for Justice who recognize the need for change. In fact, the head of the American Probation and Parole Association testified that “full civic participation by citizens living in our community protects public safety…restoring the right to vote sends the message that ex-offenders are welcome as integral members of their home communities and helps invest them in our democracy.”

Shame on you, Gov. Sandoval. Investing people in our democracy is something we should all be able to get behind.

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