Freshman Del. Cory McCray (D-45) and Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43), the Chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee are sponsoring a bill (HB 980/SB 340) to restore the voting rights of former felons:
The bill would remove the obstacles that are in the way of an estimated 40,000 ex-offenders in Maryland who want to vote.
Current law in Maryland prohibits individuals with a felony conviction from voting until after they have finished parole, probation and paid restitution. Advocates say many of the former felons who are eligible to vote are uncertain of their voting status. They fear of being accused of voter fraud and being arrested again.
[Sen. Joan Carter] Conway described the current law as a form a voter suppression.
“The criteria doesn’t make sense,” Conway said. “The debt has been paid.”
A Good and Right Idea
The General Assembly should pass this legislation for a variety of reasons. First, we should make it easier for people who have the legal right to vote to participate–not placing barriers in their path, including fear of running afoul of the law.
Some may not like that former criminals get to vote. But we are all citizens of this country. Once someone has paid their debt to society, their citizenship rights, including rights, should be restored as part of their return to the community.
Moreover, the criminal justice system does not always treat similar offenses in the same way. As a result, some people who commit become classified as ex-felons while others do not. There is no reason for this disparity in sentencing–a whole different area for debate–to carry over into the restoration of voting rights.
But Don’t Expect Too Much
Studies show that education is the best predictor of the likelihood to vote. Additionally, people who are more likely to vote include older voters, married voters, and people with a long-established residence.
As a group, former felons are far less likely than other Americans to possess these characteristics. Difficulties in obtaining a job exacerbate problems in gaining a stable housing situation. Barring some very serious organization, former felons will remain much less likely to register or to cast a ballot.
So Republicans who fear that this is a plot by Democrats to get more of “their” voters on the rolls should chill. The impact will likely be small. More importantly, even if every single one voted, no political party worthy of the name should be afraid of citizens participating in our democratic process.