Senate Democrats are divided over the restoration of voting rights for felons, according to The Hill, an agenda pushed by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Senators in current re-election races – Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) – avoided The Hill’s questions about Holder’s push.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) gave qualified support for “nonviolent felons.” But he questioned voting restoration to violent felons.
At the same time, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has a bill to restore the right to vote to nonviolent felons after they complete their sentencing.
Paul is being credited with a legislative effort in Kentucky to end restrictions on felon voting.
“One mistake in life shouldn’t permanently block a citizen’s access to the ballot box. The right to vote is among the most important rights we have. It is something for which people in other countries have lost their lives,” Paul said.
Other states considering voting rights for former offenders are Iowa and Florida.
State felon voting laws range from those in Maine and Vermont, which allow offenders to vote in prison, to states where felons lose their right to vote depending on their crime, such as Alabama, Arizona, Nevada and Virginia.
In Tennessee, felons may apply for the right to vote after completing their prison term, except for those convicted of murder and rape.
Texas restores the right to vote after offenders complete their term of incarceration and parole.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia restore rights after incarceration, according to ProCon.org, a nonpartisan, educational organization.
The National Review noted that felons also lose other rights in addition to voting. Sex offenders are not allowed to be schoolteachers, and some offenders are unemployable as police officers.
The federal government has restrictions on the employment of felons. Some states deny welfare benefits and public housing to drug offenders.
Interviewed for the documentary “Through the Door,” Bill Kleiber, executive director of Restorative Justice Ministry Network of Texas, spoke in favor of voting rights for felons.
“Voter registration is important because that means that they’ve chosen to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Kleiber said.
“We want them to be full, respected citizens,” he said, “and the more people that vote, the better off we are as a country.”