Maryland House overrides veto on felon voting rights

The Maryland House of Delegates has overridden vetoes on three bills that Governor Larry Hogan vetoed last year. One of those bills, which would allow felons on probation or parole to register to vote, was part of a six-bill criminal justice reform package that Hogan vetoed in its entirety last May.

From the Washington Post:

Maryland governor Larry Hogan, via Fort Meade / Flickr

Maryland governor Larry Hogan, via Fort Meade / Flickr

Under current law, felons can vote after they finish parole and probation. Hogan says that should not change, because parole and probation are part of their punishment.

Miller said this week that he and many others believe that voting helps felons as they re-enter society. “If they are citizens, they are entitled to vote,” [Senate President Thomas V. Mike] Miller said.

Miller said that he’s confident he has the votes to override Hogan’s vetoes in the State Senate, though he did concede that the voting rights bill would be the toughest to push through.

If they’re able to, though, it will certainly be welcome news to the not-exactly-small number of Marylanders who are currently denied access to the ballot due to their criminal records. However, while the bill would amount to a major expansion of the franchise in the state, it still doesn’t bring Maryland to full franchise:

Here’s the thing: It’s no accident that the only two states that allow felons to vote while in prison — Maine and Vermont — also happen to be two of the whitest states in the Union. Veil of ignorance arguments about voting rights for felons aside, it is impossible to disentangle felon disenfranchisement from broader systematic attempts to marginalize the United States’ black population. As Spencer Woodman wrote last month:

As with numerous similar laws across the United States, Florida’s felon voting ban coincided with the end of the Civil War and the consequent passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments, which granted equal protection under the law and extended voting rights to nonwhites. Facing the threat of a shifting balance of power, states quickly enacted restrictive election laws, including prohibitions on ex-felons voting that had a disproportionate impact on minorities.

Although the new constitutional protections forced lawmakers to present race-neutral justifications for the new voting laws, explicit racism inevitably seeped into the record during the frenzied drafting of the felony provisions. “The crime of wife-beating alone would disqualify 60 percent of the Negroes,” said John Field Bunting, a participant in Alabama’s 1901 constitutional convention, in reference to the felon disenfranchisement ordinance he had introduced. And, even a full century after Bunting’s remarks, proponents of felon disenfranchisement have still let invidious racial language slip while discussing the laws. “If it’s blacks losing the right to vote, then they have to quit committing crimes,” said a South Carolina state representative during a 2001 debate about changing the state’s disenfranchisement law.

While the more iconic Reconstruction-era voter suppression mechanisms — tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests — have been felled by courts and Congress over the past hundred years, the felon voting provisions have remained a stubborn vestige of the century-and-a-half-old push to block certain groups from the ballot box.

Those effects linger today. As Harry Enten wrote in 2013:

Only 2.5%, 5.8 million people, in the voting age population were made ineligible to vote by felon voting laws in 2010, according to the Sentencing Project (pdf). That percentage tripled to 7.7% among African-Americans. Another way of putting this is that 38%, 2.2 million, of all those stopped from voting by felon restrictions are black. About a million black ex-felons (i.e. those who have “paid their debt to society”) are disenfranchised.

Not surprisingly, these voters would vote overwhelmingly Democratic. A study of felon voting patterns (pdf) from 1972 to 2000 found on average 30% of felons and ex-felons would vote if given the chance, and about three out of four would vote for the Democratic nominee for president. This would have doubled Al Gore’s margin in the national vote.

And here’s the thing: There is no evidence to show that felon disenfranchisement acts as a deterrent for crime; if anything, it alienates citizens from society and increases the chances of recidivism. What’s more, felon disenfranchisement has real and significant effects on the outcome of elections — effects far greater than those of voter ID laws — because felon disenfranchisement laws are and always have been designed to take a large number of (disproportionately low-income and minority) citizens and remove them from the electoral process entirely.

Expanding ballot access to citizens with a criminal record is good for both social and democratic reasons. Fingers crossed that the Maryland Senate has enough votes to override Governor Hogan’s veto and expand ballot access to roughly 60 percent of its currently-disenfranchised population.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

Share This Post

2 Responses to “Maryland House overrides veto on felon voting rights”

  1. hood0shnik says:

    Im surprised LePage hasnt gotten around to attempting to change the voting laws for felons here in Maine.

  2. John says:

    The war on drugs was little more than Jim Crow in disguise.

© 2020 AMERICAblog Media, LLC. All rights reserved. · Entries RSS