Measure Would Require Corrections Facilities to Provide Voter Information Packet upon Inmate’s Release
TRENTON – Last Thursday, Senators Ronald L. Rice and Shirley K. Turner introduced a bill which would require correctional facilities in New Jersey to provide each inmate with voter eligibility and registration information upon the inmate’s release.
“This isn’t about changing the eligibility laws of who can and who cannot vote,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex. “This is about making sure that all people who are eligible to vote – even ex-offenders – take part in their democracy. For individuals who’ve paid their debt to society, New Jersey must do a better job informing these individuals of their voting rights.”
The bill, S-2276, would require that, when an inmate is being released from a State-run correctional facility or privately operated halfway house, that the inmate be provided with a voter information packet, which would include voter registration forms and voting instructions. The bill also requires that a form certifying that the inmate was informed – both verbally and in writing – of the right to vote be included in the packet. Upon an inmate’s release, both an official employed by the correctional facility and the inmate are required to sign a copy of the form, and each facility would be required to maintain a copy of the form on record.
Under current law, a person who is convicted of a crime of the fourth through first degree is prohibited from voting in any election while serving a sentence for that crime and while on parole or probation as a result of that conviction. After they have completed their sentence and any term of court-appointed supervision, ex-offenders are legally allowed to vote, though they have to submit a new voter registration if they were registered prior to incarceration.
The lawmakers noted that a recent report by the Florida Parole Commission noted that overall recidivism rates dropped from 33.1 percent for all released inmates in Florida to 11 percent for inmates who were able to vote after their incarceration. While the intent of their bill is to inform ex-offenders of their legal voting rights, increasing voter participation among ex-offenders could have the potential of reducing criminal recidivism in New Jersey.
“Studies have shown that when ex-offenders exercise their civil voting rights, they are less likely to become repeat offenders,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer and Hunterdon. “Not only does this measure seek to engage a larger portion of our eligible electorate in the voting process, but it can also reduce recidivism by reminding ex-offenders that they still have a responsibility as voters. When ex-offenders are engaged in their community, there’s more of a disincentive to commit new crimes.”
The bill is referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee for consideration.