Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senator Ronald Rice and Senator Sandra B. Cunningham, which would restore the right to vote to anyone on parole or probation convicted of a state or federal crime, advanced from the Senate today.
“Black communities in New Jersey and across America are over policed and are disproportionality incarcerated. Black Americans represent half of those who are barred from voting because of a criminal conviction. This disenfranchisement heavily affects the Black vote, and pushes our priorities to the back burner for people to ignore,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “We live in a democratic society where the right to vote of our most sacred right. If we want people to return and be productive members of society, we must return to them this fundamental right.”
“Despite African Americans gaining the right to vote in 1870 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 greatly diminishing voter suppression, criminal convictions and the bias of the criminal justice system, are still a major source of disenfranchisement,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “This legislation will ensure those on probation or parole are not denied the right to vote. Voting allows you to be an engaged member of your community and a contributing member of society. A criminal conviction should not strip someone of that opportunity.”
“As the legislative year comes to a close, New Jersey has been hard at work reforming our criminal justice system so that it will treat incarcerated women with dignity, restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals, and put a stop to hair discrimination. All New Jerseyans deserve to be treated with decency and respect, and each of these measures will end unequitable and disenfranchising realities that too many have been facing,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey).
“For those who have paid their debt to society, re-entered, and are now tax-paying members of our communities, the right to vote is absolutely essential. By restoring the voting rights of almost 82,000 New Jerseyans on probation or parole, this measure shows that, as a state, we believe in second chances and we’re committed to strengthening our democracy.”
Under the bill, S-4260, anyone who is on parole or probation would be permitted to vote. Only those who are serving a sentence of incarceration would continue to be disenfranchised until they complete their sentence.
Currently, individuals convicted of indictable offenses lose the right to vote until they complete their entire sentence, including probation or parole. In New Jersey, indictable offenses are crimes of the first through fourth degree.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, felons never lose their right to vote in two states – Maine and Vermont. In 14 other states and Washington, D.C., those who have been convicted of felonies can’t vote while incarcerated but are automatically re-registered upon release. In January 2019 Florida voters approved a ballot measure for people on parole, probation and in prison to have their voting rights automatically restored upon completion of their sentence.
The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 23-17.