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NJ lawmakers want to restore voting rights to prisoners, parolees

Nearly 100,000 people in New Jersey could regain the right to vote if legislation designed to give prisoners, people on probation and individuals on parole the right to vote passes.

New Jersey would be the third state nationwide to restore full voting rights to people with criminal convictions if the bill passes. Maine and Vermont already allow people to vote from prison.

Legislators, including bill sponsor Senator Ron Rice (D-NJ), said the disenfranchisement of inmates disproportionately hurts black New Jerseyans.

“Almost 150 years after the adoption of the amendment to outlaw racial discrimination in voting, a disproportionate number of black New Jerseyans are still denied the right to vote,” Rice said. “My bill seeks to realize the promise of the 15th Amendment by severing the link between the fundamental right to vote and involvement in the criminal justice system.”

The bill is already facing some opposition from Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R-NJ).

“Do we really believe that murderers and rapists who are serving prison sentences should be allowed to influence elections and public policy?” he said.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice is one of more than 75 organizations supporting the legislation. According to a report from the organization, black people represent about half of all those who have lost their voting rights as a result of a criminal conviction in New Jersey. They represent just 15 percent of the state’s overall population.

“Just as we do not deny a person the fundamental right to medical care or the right to practice their religion, we should not deny people their fundamental democratic voice,” Scott Novakowski, primary author of the Institute’s report, said. “We can, and must, do better.”

Gov. Phil Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan indicated the governor would work to expand voter enfranchisement. He did not specify whether Murphy supports this particular bill.

“Governor Murphy believes that we are a better, stronger, and more representative democracy when more New Jerseyans participate,” Bryan said. “He looks forward to working with the legislature to pass legislation that expands access to the ballot.”