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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in New Jersey

New Jersey lawmakers enacted legislation to restore voting rights to over 80,000 New Jerseyans living in the community.

Last Updated: December 18, 2019
Published: March 27, 2014

On Decem­ber 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed legis­la­tion to restore voting rights to people on proba­tion and parole.

Disen­fran­chise­ment in New Jersey

Prior to amend­ing its law on Decem­ber 18, 2019, New Jersey disen­fran­chised people with felony convic­tions while they were in prison or on parole or proba­tion. As a result, there were more than 80,000 New Jersey­ans living in their communit­ies unable to vote because of a past crim­inal convic­tion. And because of racial dispar­it­ies in the state’s crim­inal justice system, over half of those who were disen­fran­chised under New Jersey’s law are Black.

Legis­lat­ive Efforts

In 2019, legis­lat­ors intro­duced A5823/S4260 to restore voting rights to people on proba­tion and parole. On Novem­ber 14, 2019, the Assembly Appro­pri­ations Commit­tee held a hear­ing on A5823, and the Bren­nan Center provided oral testi­mony in support. A5823 passed out of Commit­tee and went to the Assembly floor for a vote. On Novem­ber 25, 2019, the Assembly passed A5823. On Decem­ber 12, 2019, the New Jersey Senate Community and Urban Affairs Commit­tee passed the compan­ion bill, S4260, out of commit­tee. The Bren­nan Center offered oral testi­mony at this hear­ing as well. On Decem­ber 16, 2019, the Senate passed A5823. The Senate substi­tuted the Assembly version for the vote. On Decem­ber 18, 2019, Governor Murphy signed the bill into law.

In 2018, legis­lat­ors intro­duced S771, which would restore voting rights to people on proba­tion and parole, and A3456/S2100, which would restore voting rights to people in prison, on parole and on proba­tion. The Bren­nan Center test­i­fied before the State Govern­ment Commit­tee.

In 2016, legis­lat­ors rein­tro­duced A2683/S2672, which would restore voting rights to people on proba­tion and parole. Similar versions of this bill were intro­duced in 2014, 2012, 2010 and 2008.

In 2006, the Bren­nan Center draf­ted a similar bill that would restore voting rights post-incar­cer­a­tion, but the bill was not intro­duced. The legis­la­tion would require the Depart­ment of Correc­tions to provide regis­tra­tion assist­ance, provide for the main­ten­ance of accur­ate voter rolls, and require the Secret­ary of State to educate the public about the new law.

In 2005, the Bren­nan Center draf­ted legis­la­tion for a coali­tion of advoc­ates seek­ing to restore voting rights after incar­cer­a­tion, but the bill was not intro­duced.

Litig­a­tion

The Bren­nan Center consul­ted with the attor­neys litig­at­ing NAACP v. Harvey, a chal­lenge to the state’s felony disen­fran­chise­ment law under the New Jersey Consti­tu­tion. The Bren­nan Center also contin­ues to support state advoc­ates in efforts to achieve legis­lat­ive change.

Bren­nan Center Public Educa­tion Efforts

Through the years, the Bren­nan Center has also worked to improve New Jersey’s disen­fran­chise­ment policies, includ­ing through educa­tion efforts aimed at decreas­ing de facto disen­fran­chise­ment of eligible New Jersey­ans.

The Bren­nan Center assisted a coali­tion in design­ing and conduct­ing a survey of elec­tion offi­cials that revealed ignor­ance and misap­plic­a­tion of the law. The Bren­nan Center then joined these advoc­ates in a letter demand­ing that the Attor­ney General, the state’s chief elec­tion offi­cial, correct the prob­lem.

Bren­nan Center Mater­i­als

Press

Bren­nan Center Public­a­tions

  • Restor­ing the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
    • The Bren­nan Center’s policy proposal for restor­ing voting rights for citizens with past crim­inal convic­tions.
  • My First Vote (2009)
    • Testi­mo­ni­als of indi­vidu­als who regained their voting rights after being disen­fran­chised because of past crim­inal convic­tions.
  • De Facto Disen­fran­chise­ment, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
    • A report on how complex laws, poorly informed offi­cials, and misin­form­a­tion lead to the de facto disen­fran­chise­ment of citizens with past crim­inal convic­tions who are eligible to vote.
  • Racism & Felony Disen­fran­chise­ment: An Inter­twined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
    • A piece examin­ing the histor­ical roots of crim­inal disen­fran­chise­ment laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.

For more inform­a­tion about the Bren­nan Center’s work on Restor­ing Voting Rights in New Jersey, please contact Derek Paul­hus, at paul­hus­d@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu.