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Maryland Restores Voting Rights for 40,000

Liz Kennedy

Today, the voters of New Hampshire go to the polls to cast their votes in the first presidential primary. Unfortunately, for the first time, the voters of New Hampshire will face an unnecessary and administratively burdensome photo ID law. Voters in New Hampshire and 15 other states will face new voting restrictions for this first time in a presidential election.  

But today, Maryland voters won an important victory when the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to restore the right to vote to 40,000 Marylanders. Marcus Toles, a former felon who had his voting rights restored through today’s vote was reportedly “overwhelmed with joy,” and was pictured with his voter registration application.

Last spring, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB340/HB980 to return the right to vote for Marylanders with felony convictions who, though no longer incarcerated, were ineligible to vote while on probation or parole. But Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the legislation, effectively continuing to deny the vote to 40,000 Maryland citizens.

But today Maryland’s elected lawmakers seized the opportunity to make progress to our dream of a free, fair, and accessible democracy. The Maryland House of Delegates took the first critical step to restore the rights of returning citizens to participate in the political process on January 20, when they voted to override the Governor’s veto. The Maryland Senate voted to override the veto this morning, completing the job of restoring voting rights to returning citizens once they are no longer incarcerated. 

This is an important victory for voting rights, and the fight to create an inclusive democracy where everyone can participate in setting the course of our society. 

Once people have served their time in prison, they should regain their voting rights. They are our neighbors, living in our communities, paying taxes and contributing to society. They should have the chance to have their voices heard.

Issues of mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement are moving to the forefront of American debate. Nationally, 5.8 million American citizens are stripped of their voting rights because of felon disenfranchisement laws. These felon disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact people of color—one of out of 13 Black Americans are unable to cast a vote as a result.

Preventing returning citizens from voting eliminates a tool that can help reduce recidivism because voting gives these citizens a higher stake in their communities.

Today, Maryland became the fourteenth state that has removed laws that unfairly deny the right to vote to former felons once they’ve completed periods of incarceration. 

Now the work of engaging these newly enfranchised citizens begins. People can not use tools if they don’t know they have them, and public education will be crucial to making sure these new potential voters participate and make their voices heard. 

Every voice can make a difference in the fight for an equal democracy.