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New Mexico lawmakers debate allowing convicts to vote

New Mexico's legislature this week began considering a bill to give convicted felons the right to vote while incarcerated or on parole. The legislation would go further than the initiative approved by last fall by Florida voters, who restored voting rights for all convicted felons, except murderers and sex offenders, and further than the law President Trump signed in December, easing some of the most punitive prison sentences at the federal level without restoring the franchise to federal convicts.

In Albuquerque, supporters told a state House panel the bill was an important vehicle for boosting the rights of minority groups that have historically had disproportionately high incarceration rates. Opponents lambasted the idea of extending such rights to violent offenders.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic state Rep. Gail Chasey, citing statistics that show 94 percent of New Mexico's 7,000 inmates will eventually be released, said allowing them to be politically active while in prison will make them more engaged citizens when they get out.

Under current New Mexico law, people convicted of felonies are removed from the voting rolls and prohibited from voting again until after they have completed their sentence, probation or parole. Maine and Vermont are the only states that do not take the vote away from the incarcerated.

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