Nevada prepares to reform its disenfranchisement rules, but will it go further?
Nevada, which has some of the country’s strictest felony disenfranchisement laws, is changing its rules in January. But it will still retain a system that is harsh by national standards and will disenfranchise large numbers of residents.
AB 181 does make it easier for people to regain the franchise post-sentence if the reason they are barred from voting is a failure to meet the financial costs of probation or parole. That’s because it eliminates the rule that grants automatic eligibility to regain voting rights only to people who receive a so-called honorable discharge from probation or parole. “It’s a lot easier for people with money to finish their sentence honorably,” said Blair Bowie, a Campaign Legal Center fellow who has helped Nevadans regain their rights as part of the Restore Your Vote campaign. A dishonorable discharge can stem from many reasons, including an inability to pay court fines and fees.
By breaking the link between voting and honorable discharges, which Bowie calls a “hidden wealth barrier,” AB 181 will reduce the financial disparities in disenfranchisement.
“There’s definitely a movement toward getting rid of these outdated and punitive laws,” Bowie told me. “It’s great that Nevada is taking a small step in that direction, but there’s a lot more that they could do.”