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Disenfranchisement News: MD Governor Vetoes Bill to Restore Voting Rights to 40,000 People

May 26, 2015
Maryland Governor Hogan vetoes a bill to restore voting rights to 40,000 people, presidential candidates call for felony disenfranchisement reform, and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

Disenfranchisement News is a monthly electronic newsletter produced by The Sentencing Project. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Alabama House approves bill that defines which offenses result in forfeiture of voting rights

The House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would create a definitive list of felony offenses that prohibit people from voting. Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony involving “moral turpitude” loses their voting rights, but Alabama’s Constitution does not define those crimes further. Some county registrars interpret the Constitution to mean any felony conviction prohibits voting, while other counties use a list of offenses identified in a previous court case.

Republican Rep. Mike Jones, sponsor of the bill, says the goal is “to make sure we’re not keeping people from voting who should be voting.” The bill identifies 38 offenses that would result in disenfranchisement, including drug trafficking, murder, rape, theft, bigamy, and terrorism charges. A person with a felony conviction not on the list would be eligible for rights restoration.

Maryland governor vetoes bill to restore voting rights to 40,000 people

Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have restored voting rights to people immediately after prison, rather than waiting until they’ve completed parole or probation. The bill would have impacted an estimated 40,000 disenfranchised Marylanders. The Senate passed the measure with the minimum votes needed to override a veto, but the House was two votes short for an override. In a letter to legislative leaders, Governor Hogan said that restoring voting rights to people after they have completed probation or parole “achieves the proper balance between repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights.”

Communities United, a social justice advocacy group that supported the measure, criticized the veto saying: “Governor Hogan has learned nothing from the uprising in Baltimore and what the city and state residents need. Freddie Gray’s West Baltimore neighborhood has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the state. Former felons need a voice and the ability to influence what happens in their communities and lives.”

Democratic Sen. Joan Carter Conway says she needs to gather just a handful of votes in each chamber to override the veto when the General Assembly convenes next January.

Minnesota voting rights provision stripped from public safety bill

Due to strong Republican opposition, a provision to expand voting rights to people on probation and parole was dropped from a public safety bill negotiated by DFL Sen. Ron Latz and Republican Rep. Tony Cornish.

Sen. Latz expressed his disappointment and said, “I have been working… to find a pathway by which ‘Restore the Vote’ could be included in this conference committee report. Unfortunately I finally reached the conclusion that I could not see any pathway for that to happen.” Sen. Latz said House Republican leadership agreed to continue working on the issue and they will try to pass a bill next year.

Presidential candidates call for felony disenfranchisement reform

At a recent forum in Iowa, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said people with felony convictions “ought to get a second chance” to vote. In 2005, while she was in the Senate, Clinton introduced the Count Every Vote Act to restore voting rights to people who have completed their felony prison, probation and parole sentence. Clinton has yet to elaborate on whether she still supports the boundaries for felony re-enfranchisement from her previous bill.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has repeatedly advocated for restoring voting rights for people convicted of certain crimes, and has made criminal justice reform a central theme in his presidential campaign. Earlier this year, Sen. Paul introduced the Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act, which would restore federal voting rights for people convicted of non-violent crimes.

In The Washington Post, Philip Bump recently speculated on what could have happened in the 2012 election if the 5.8 million disenfranchised Americans were allowed to vote. Using data from University of Florida professor Michael McDonald’s United States Election Project, Bump reported that the biggest increase in voter turnout would have been in Texas, followed by Georgia and Florida. He noted that the always-contested state of Florida is interesting because “the number of people who could gain the right to vote and then actually vote is twice the margin of victory for Obama in the state.”

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