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Voting Rights Restored to 40,000 Marylanders

Maryland’s General Assembly voted to restore voting rights for approximately 40,000 citizens who live in their communities but could not vote because of a criminal conviction in their past.

February 9, 2016

Legis­lature Votes to Over­ride Veto on Rights Restor­a­tion Bill

Anna­polis, Md. – The Mary­land General Assembly voted to over­ride a veto today on a bill that will restore voting rights for approx­im­ately 40,000 citizens who live in their communit­ies but cannot vote because of a crim­inal convic­tion in their past.

With the new provi­sion, Mary­land will become the 14th state, plus the District of Columbia, to restore voting rights to people who are out of prison.

Previ­ous Mary­land law with­held the right to vote from indi­vidu­als until they fully completed every require­ment of their sentence, includ­ing those beyond incar­cer­a­tion, like proba­tion and parole super­vi­sion. SB 340/HB980, intro­duced by Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and Del. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore), simpli­fies the process by allow­ing an indi­vidual to become eligible to vote upon release from prison or if they were never incar­cer­ated. 

The broad coali­tion in support of the bill expressed its grat­it­ude to the General Assembly, which passed the meas­ure by wide margins last spring.

“We’re seeing grow­ing national momentum for voting rights restor­a­tion, and Mary­land is the latest place to join this trend,” said Tomas Lopez, Coun­sel at the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “We’re thrilled this bill will give 40,000 Marylanders a second chance.”

“The Mary­land General Assembly opened up our demo­cracy to the thou­sands of Marylanders who have returned home from prison and now have the right to vote. I know from exper­i­ence that this legis­la­tion will have a power­ful impact on our lives and in our communit­ies,” said Perry Hopkins, a formerly incar­cer­ated citizen and organ­izer with Communit­ies United. “From the minute you are released from prison, you are able to pay taxes, you are work­ing to rein­teg­rate back into soci­ety in a product­ive way, and you deserve the full rights of citizen­ship. It’s just that simple. And today the Mary­land General Assembly did the right thing and restored our rights.”

“Today’s over­ride is a huge step forward for voting rights in Mary­land. Governor Hogan suppressed the vote for an addi­tional eight months with his veto, so our next chal­lenge is to quickly educate and register voters for the upcom­ing April 26 local and federal primar­ies,” said Jane Hende­r­son, exec­ut­ive director of Communit­ies United. “We have a short window of oppor­tun­ity in March to reach and register newly enfran­chised voters – whether in church, on the job, at recov­ery centers, at parole offices, or in our neigh­bor­hoods – and we call on civic, civil rights, and reli­gious lead­ers to help us to reach these 40,000 newly enfran­chised citizens.”

“This is a victory for civil rights that comes at a crit­ical moment for our state and our nation,” said Gerald Stans­bury, Pres­id­ent of the Mary­land State Confer­ence of the NAACP. “Today 40,000 Marylanders who, until today, have been locked out of the process by an unfair law and an unjust crim­inal justice system have regained a funda­mental right of citizen­ship, the right to vote. The major­ity of citizens regain­ing their voting rights are African Amer­ican and it has never been more import­ant that their voices are heard in local govern­ment, the halls of the State House, and by our federal repres­ent­at­ives. I am grate­ful to the Mary­land General Assembly for restor­ing the right to vote.”

“Demo­cracy is on the march in Mary­land. The Mary­land General Assembly’s vote to restore the right to vote of more than 40,000 citizens comes at a crit­ical time for our demo­cracy,” said Emma Green­man, Director of Voting Rights and Demo­cracy at the Center for Popu­lar Demo­cracy. “Over 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, nearly 5.8 million Amer­ic­ans remain shut out of the demo­cratic process because of a crim­inal convic­tion. Today Mary­land unlocked the vote for folks rein­teg­rat­ing into their communit­ies and lifted up their voices in our demo­cracy.”

The bill was cham­pioned the Unlock the Vote coali­tion, which includes the Bren­nan Center for Justice, Communit­ies United, Out for Justice, the ACLU of Mary­land, the Center for Popu­lar Demo­cracy, the Senten­cing Project, Common Cause Mary­land, Mary­land Work­ing Famil­ies, MD State Confer­ence of the NAACP, the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, the Prince George’s County Branch of the NAACP, and the National NAACP and the NAACP National Voter Fund. Other support­ers of this 2015 legis­la­tion include 1199­SEIU United Health­care Work­ers East, SEIU Local 500, SEIU 32BJ, Prison Ministry Task Force of the Epis­copal Diocese of Mary­land, the Job Oppor­tun­it­ies Task Force, SAVE Our Votes, Colo­, People for the Amer­ican Way, the Demo­cracy Initi­at­ive, the Amer­ican Proba­tion and Parole Asso­ci­ation, the Legis­lat­ive Black Caucus of Mary­land, and Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake.

The Mary­land meas­ure builds on recent bipar­tisan support for rights restor­a­tion around the coun­try. In 2014, U.S. Attor­ney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights. Support­ers from across the polit­ical spec­trum have intro­duced bills in Congress to restore rights, includ­ing the Civil Rights Voting Restor­a­tion Act of 2015 from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and the Demo­cracy Restor­a­tion Act of 2014 from U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.).

Over the past two decades, more than 20 states have improved their crim­inal disen­fran­chise­ment laws, includ­ing Mary­land, which ended life­time disen­fran­chise­ment in 2007. Like similar laws else­where in the United States, Maryland’s law dispro­por­tion­ately impacts racial minor­it­ies. It is estim­ated that African Amer­ic­ans comprise more than half of Maryland’s disen­fran­chised popu­la­tion.