Nebraska Bill Restoring Voting Rights to People With Felony Convictions Becomes Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. A Nebraska bill that restores voting rights to people with felony convictions after they’ve completed their sentence has become law in the state, but without the governor’s signature. 

The proposal approved last week by the Legislature amends an existing law stating that “any person sentenced to be punished for any felony, when the sentence is not reversed or annulled, is not qualified to vote until two years after he or she has completed the sentence, including any parole term.”

Instead of having to wait until two years, a person with a felony conviction in Nebraska can register to vote once they’ve completed their sentence under the revised law. It’s expected to take effect on July 18, ahead of the election in November.

While the bill — Legislative Bill 20 – passed the Legislature, it was never signed or vetoed by Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen (R), who signaled that his office may challenge the law in court due to “significant potential infirmities” identified in the bill by the state attorney general and secretary of state. All three state officials are Republicans.  

“Although there are potential constitutional issues with LB20 and related provisions of existing law, I will allow LB20 and LB20A to become law with neither my signature nor my endorsement of LB20’s constitutional validity,” Pillen wrote in a letter to the Legislature on Wednesday. “I encourage the Attorney General and the Secretary of State to promptly take such measures as are appropriate in light of the constitutional infirmities referenced above.

Under Nebraska’s constitution, any bill that isn’t returned by the governor within five days after it’s sent to him “shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it.”

With the new law, Nebraska joins more than a dozen other states where people with felony convictions can vote once they’ve finished their sentence, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union. Only two states — Vermont and Maine — and Washington, D.C. allow everyone to vote, regardless of conviction status.

In recent years, voting rights advocates and individuals who lost the right to vote due to felony convictions have used the court system to challenge those restrictions, with at least seven active lawsuits across six states that seek to restore voting rights or remove barriers for people with criminal convictions, according to our case database. 

Read the bill here.

Learn more about felony disenfranchisement here.