Bill to Restore Voting Rights to Persons on Parole or Probation
Asserting the right to vote as both fundamental and critical to democracy, a bill restoring voting rights to individuals on parole or probation was approved in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday. The legislation is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Cleopatra Tucker, Jamel Holley and Britnee Timberlake.
The bill (A-5823) would remove the prohibition on voting by persons on parole and/or probation convicted for an indictable offense under any federal or state laws, which in New Jersey are offenses for crimes of the fourth through first degree.
“New Jersey can lead the nation as a model of racial justice and inclusive democracy with the enactment of this bill,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The privilege to participate in the election process is a constitutional right afforded every American regardless of background, race or status. Every person of voting age should have the ability to cast their ballot without interference and without judgement of their personal history.”
States across the country have sought to ease voting restrictions on individuals with criminal convictions in recent decades. Under the proposed legislation, New Jersey’s law would be amended to provide for automatic restoration of voting rights upon release, where it currently provides for automatic restoration only after the completion of a sentence including periods of parole and probation.
“Voting is an opportunity for all residents to have their say in who leads their communities and state,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “No one population should be disproportionately denied their right to vote. These are outdated laws that have no place in a modern democracy.”
Under Article II, Section I, paragraph 7, the New Jersey Constitution authorizes the Legislature to disqualify certain persons from the right to vote in primary, municipal, special or general elections. This bill would eliminate the voting disqualification currently levied against the roughly 79,000 people on probation and parole in New Jersey.
“Withholding the right to vote from people who have served their time while incarcerated, and who have paid their dues, sends the wrong message,” said Holley (D-Union). “We need to successfully reintegrate individuals into their respective communities and that requires reinstating rights to participate in the political process as soon as they step foot outside of the horrors of the incarcerated walls.”
“The story of mass incarceration and disproportionate disenfranchisement in America can no longer be the narrative for New Jersey,” said Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “People with criminal records face enough trials post-incarceration in searching for employment, paying down debt and reconnecting with their families. Ending the prohibition on voting for probationers and parolees gives them a chance to move forward, to have their voices heard.”
The bill, accordingly, also repeals statutory provisions that permit a person to challenge a voter’s right to vote in an election on grounds that the voter is disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction (N.J.S.A.19:15-19); require the commissioner of registration in each county to compare voter registration records with criminal conviction records to prevent disenfranchised persons from voting and registering to vote (N.J.S.A.19:13-17): and criminalize the act of voting while disenfranchised (N.J.S.A.19:34-4).
It now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further review.