Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Guest column:

More people voting is good for democracy

It should be easy to vote. We should want all citizens to participate in our democracy.

However, when I was campaigning for the Nevada Senate, I met many people who thought they couldn’t vote because they had been convicted of a felony in the past. As a prosecutor, I understood the intricacies of our state’s law and knew that most of them could, in fact, vote. For those who couldn’t, I knew how they could go about applying to have their right to vote restored.

It’s hard to expect the average person, without special training or access to a lawyer, to understand their voting rights after a criminal conviction. Until recently, the rules in Nevada were confusing.

That is why the Assembly and the state Senate passed Assembly Bill 431, which restores the right to vote for people who have been released from prison and completed their term of parole or probation. AB 431, which Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law, creates a simple and clear rule: After a person has served his or her sentence, he or she has the right to vote.

As a deputy district attorney, I understand that the best way to reduce crime is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Research has shown that there is a positive correlation between enabling people to exercise the right to vote and lower recidivism rates. This makes sense. If you allow people to vote, they will be more invested in the community and more likely to abide by the law. 

During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, I was moved by the stories of formerly incarcerated people who took their children with them to vote. We should support all parents in passing down an appreciation of democracy to the next generation. 

Right now, the problem is too few people voting, not too many. As of 2016, nearly 90,000 Nevada citizens were not allowed to vote because of a past felony conviction — more than 4% of the total voting age population. Nevada had one of the nation’s strictest laws excluding citizens from voting because of a conviction.

AB 431 brings Nevada into line with 38 states and the District of Columbia to automatically restore voting rights to people after they complete their sentence. Sixteen states and D.C. allow all citizens who are not in prison to vote. Two states — Maine and Vermont — do not ever take away the right of any citizen to cast a ballot and always allow people with felony convictions to vote.

Adopting AB 431 is also an important step for ensuring the right of people of color to vote. African-Americans are disproportionately arrested, convicted and incarcerated, and therefore more likely to lose their right to vote. In Nevada, nearly 12% of black adults were disenfranchised in 2016.

By signing this measure into law, Sisolak has made Nevada a leader in protecting all U.S. citizens’ right to vote. After all, we are talking about people who are living in the community, working, paying taxes and raising their families. By giving them a voice and encouraging them to engage in civic life, we’ve shown we are serious about their success and the betterment of the community as a whole.

The more people voting, the better for our democracy.

Melanie Scheible is a Nevada state senator representing District 9 and a Clark County deputy district attorney.