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Kimberly Haven

Kimberly Haven’s journey as an advocate began when she sought to regain her own voting rights after release from a Maryland prison in 2001. She soon became passionate about the unfairness of disenfranchising citizens after they have completed their sentence and returned to the community.

Nothing worthwhile comes easy. That’s the adage Kimberly Haven adopted while fighting for six years to restore the rights of formerly incarcerated individuals in Maryland. With the support of advocates and organizations, Haven’s work brought the state Senate and House to approve the Voting Registration Protection Act, which Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed on April 24, 2007.

Haven’s journey as an advocate began when she sought to regain her own voting rights after release from a Maryland prison in 2001. She soon became passionate about the unfairness of disenfranchising citizens after they have completed their sentence and returned to the community.

“At first, it became my personal crusade, but when I learned about the magnitude, I said ‘hell no,’ recalled the 45-year-old Baltimore resident. “There is no reason why I and 50,000 other people should not be able to vote.”

kimberlyhaven2Haven immersed herself in criminal justice reform and eventually rose to the role of executive director of Justice Maryland, a prominent statewide criminal justice reform advocacy organization. As the leader of the non-profit, she has become a national spokesperson for the issue and has partnered with numerous advocacy groups including The Sentencing Project, NAACP and ACLU to educate the community at large on rights for formerly incarcerated individuals – primarily felony disenfranchisement and sentencing reform.

“We did rallies, community organizing; we’ve done legislative education, media outreach, and public education, written op-eds. We’ve done the traditional things to try to engage people in the discussion,” said Haven. “Some were more successful than others.”

After running into powerful opponents, including then-Governor Robert Ehrlich, the movement came to a halt in 2006 when Maryland legislators refused to consider changing the state’s antiquated and draconian lifetime voting ban.

But rather than giving up, Haven was determined to continue on.

“I never once gave up or thought about it,” Haven said a year later. “There was never a time I wanted to walk away from the fight. Knowing that I have the ability to have my voice counted and to be part of the discussion is critical to me.”

“I never once gave up or thought about it,” Haven said a year later. “There was never a time I wanted to walk away from the fight. Knowing that I have the ability to have my voice counted and to be part of the discussion is critical to me.”

As a result of Haven’s hard work and the support and guidance of organizations and affected individuals, the Maryland House and Senate in March 2007 approved the Voting Rights Protection Act, which re-enfranchised 50,000 residents who had completed their sentences, ended the draconian lifetime voting ban, and eliminated the three-year waiting period for certain people with past felony convictions.

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Prior to the 2007 legislation, more than 110,000 Maryland residents were disenfranchised due to felony convictions — one out of every 37 residents. The state was one of only 11 with a permanent felony disenfranchisement policy.

“We’re changing the political landscape in Maryland; we’re charting a new course in Maryland’s history and that is significant,” said Haven. “It has the ability to ripple across the country. It’s a very sobering, very powerful moment for me.”

“When you go to the State House in Annapolis and talk to one of the delegates, the first thing they ask is if you’re one of their constituents and if you’re a registered voter. As of July 1, I can say ‘yes,’” Haven said.

 
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