ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland General Assembly overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto today on a bill that restores voting rights for approximately 40,000 Maryland citizens who live in their communities but were barred from voting because of a criminal conviction in their past. The law will go into effect on March 10, 2016 allowing all former felons who are out of prison to register and vote in Maryland’s upcoming April local and federal primaries.
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.
After the law takes effect on March 10, affected Marylanders will have until April 5 – less than a month — to register to vote in the April 26 primaries. New voters can also register through same-day registration during the early voting period of April 14 – 21. There will be at least 59 early voting centers throughout the state.
The bill was championed the Unlock the Vote coalition, led by Communities United with Out for Justice, the ACLU of Maryland, Common Cause Maryland, Maryland Working Families, MD State Conference of the NAACP, Maryland League of Women Voters, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, SEIU Local 500, SEIU 32BJ, SEIU Maryland & DC State Council, Prison Ministry Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, the Job Opportunities Task Force, the Center for Popular Democracy, Brennan Center for Justice, the Sentencing Project, the National NAACP and the NAACP National Voter Fund, Communication Workers of America, SAVE Our Votes, Colorofchange.org, People for the American Way, the Democracy Initiative, the American Probation and Parole Association and Common Cause.
“The Maryland General Assembly has 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 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. “Because of the confusing nature of the previous law, there is a lot of misinformation about if and when those with felonies can register and vote. We want all former felons to know that if you are home, you can vote. 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 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 ex-offenders 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.”
“We’re seeing growing national momentum for voting rights restoration, and Maryland is the latest place to join in on this trend,” said Tomas Lopez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “This legislation will give 40,000 Marylanders a second chance.”
The measure builds on recent bipartisan support for rights restoration around the country. Last year, 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 criminal disenfranchisement law has disproportionately impacted racial minorities. It is estimated that African Americans have comprised more than half of Maryland’s disenfranchised population. When the rights restoration bill becomes law, Maryland will be the newest addition in the national movement to restore voting rights to people who are released from prison, joining 13 states and the District of Columbia.