Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) on Friday vetoed a bipartisan measure that would have granted former felons the right to vote after they had completed their sentences.
Supporters of the measure said it would help those who had served their time become members of society once again. In a letter to the Legislature, though, Ricketts said the measure would have circumvented the state constitution.
“While the legislature may restore certain privileges, such as driving privileges, to convicted felons, the legislature may not circumvent the Nebraska Constitution to automatically restore a voting right in state law,” Ricketts wrote to legislators, adding that the bill “is attempting to create the equivalent of a legislative pardon.”
Current state law gives former felons their voting rights back after two years.
Supporters of the bill are considering whether to try to override Ricketts’ veto, though it’s not clear they have the votes. Thirty of the 49 members of Nebraska’s unicameral Legislature would have to vote to override the veto; the bill received 27 votes when it passed, though seven members were not present for the vote.
An estimated six million Americans are not allowed to vote because of prior felony convictions. Twenty states grant former felons the right to vote after completing their sentences, and another sixteen restore voting rights automatically once prisoners complete their sentences, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Two states, Vermont and Maine, allow felons to vote even while they are in prison.
Ricketts said states without limits on the restoration of voting rights have higher recidivism rates than Nebraska, where about 31 percent of those released from prison commit new crimes.
“Requiring convicted felons to wait before allowing them to vote provides an incentive to maintain a clean record and avoid subsequent convictions,” Ricketts wrote.