Voting Rights Restored to 40,000 Marylanders

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, Colorofchange.org, 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.  

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