Monday, June 23, 2014

Voting rights possibly restored for some categories of ex-offenders

Rand Paul (KY Senator) is introducing a bill this week to restore voting rights to nonviolent felons in federal elections.

Paul is also pursuing drug sentencing reform in the Senate and is mulling efforts aimed at easing nonviolent criminals back into the job market. He even wants to redefine some drug offenses currently classified as felonies to misdemeanors.

Together, the moves add up to a concerted effort to get minorities, young people and civil libertarians excited about Republicans — groups that much of the party admits it needs.

The re-enfranchisement of convicted felons has long been a cause of liberals like Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), whose own bill would deliver voting rights to ex-cons regardless of the crimes they’ve committed.

Republicans have been absent from that effort, so Paul’s embrace of voting rights legislation has excited civil rights groups, even though a bipartisan deal on voting rights is likely years away.

“Having both a Republican voice and a Democratic voice on this issue is a huge step forward,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, who runs the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington office. “That is going to help change the national conversation.”