Maryland lawmakers today expanded voting rights for people with felony convictions with their override of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of House Bill 980. The action restores voting rights to an estimated 40,000 persons on felony probation or parole. Maryland was one of 35 states that disenfranchised persons on probation or parole, individuals living in the community but unable to vote.
“Maryland lawmakers have taken an important step in expanding the vote to people with felony convictions living in the community,” said Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “Restricting voting rights is deeply problematic for a democratic society and compounds the social isolation of formerly incarcerated persons from their communities.”
Nationally, 5.85 million Americans are prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses. Felony disenfranchisement policies vary by state, and variously disenfranchise people in prison, on probation or parole, or with past convictions. Maryland now joins Connecticut and Rhode Island as states that have expanded the right to vote for individuals on probation or parole in recent years.
Felony disenfranchisement has produced broad racial disparities in its impact as well. Nationwide, one in every 13 black adults cannot vote as the result of a felony conviction, and in two states – Florida and Virginia – more than one in five black adults is disenfranchised.
Civic participation has been to linked with lower recidivism rates. In one study, among individuals who had been previously arrested, 27 percent of nonvoters were rearrested, compared with 12 percent of voters. Although the limitations of the data available preclude proof of direct causation, it is clear that “voting appears to be part of a package of pro-social behavior that is linked to desistance from crime.
Nicole D. Porter, Director of Advocacy of The Sentencing Project, said: “We are encouraged by state officials who are reconsidering unfair disenfranchisement policies; 23 states have enacted reforms since 1997. This reform offers an opportunity to strengthen the democratic process and we hope this will be followed by a commitment to notify impacted persons that their voting rights have been restored.”