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.
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 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.
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
- Restore voting rights for New Jerseyans on probation and parole, Myrna Pérez, NorthJersey.com (December 18, 2019)
- Testimony of Eliza Sweren-Becker Before the New Jersey Assembly Appropriations Committee (November 14, 2019)
- Testimony of Myrna Pérez Before the New Jersey Senate State Government Committee (January 31, 2019)
- An Agenda for a Renewed Democracy in New Jersey (April 20, 2017)
- Civil Rights Groups Call for Voting Reforms to Boost Democratic Participation in New Jersey (April 20, 2017)
- Time's Up: Let's Flush an Ancient Law with Racist Origins, Star-Ledger Editorial Board, NJ.com (November 25, 2019)
- NJ Seeks to Ease Transition for Former Inmates with Prison Reforms, Ashley Balcerzak, NorthJersey.com (November 15, 2019)
- Wake Up, Lawmakers: There’s Time to Restore Felon Voting Rights During Lame Duck, Star-Ledger Editorial Board, NJ.com (November 10, 2019)
- Murphy Calls for Returning Right to Vote to Felons on Probation or Parole, Colleen O’Dea, NJ Spotlight (January 17, 2019)
- Op-Ed: Restore Voting Rights to People on Parole and Probation, Scott Novakowski, NJ Spotlight (May 16, 2017)
- Voting Prison Blues, Jori Lewis, Pacific Standard (May 3, 2017)
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 Stuart Baum, at email@example.com.