On February 2nd the state Senate voted to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill from 2015 that promoted more lenient voting laws for men and women coming out of prison. This will affect around 44 thousand former prisoners, starting in March. Under the new bill they will be able to vote even though they are on probation or parole.
Governor Hogan had argued against the leniency of the bill, and explained that felons should not be granted their right to vote again until they have completed their parole and probation, as he believes that those are parts of the sentencing and punishment.
When the veto was overturned, Governor Hogan remained adamantly against it, and believes that the voters of Maryland are as well.
“It’s only a tiny minority – a tiny, radical minority – of Marylanders, who want current felons to vote. They went against an overwhelming supermajority of people from both parties,” said Governor Hogan in an interview with the Washington Post.
The Democratic-controlled legislature has now overturned all six of Hogan’s vetoes from last year, a pointed reminder to the governor that each legislative chamber has enough Democrats for a veto-proof majority.
Those in favor of the override have been very happy with the implications of the new bill. Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) called the override “the right thing to do,” in light of the recent controversy surrounding racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
In the Senate, twenty-nine Democrats in the Senate voted to override Hogan’s veto and continue pushing the bill, making Maryland one of fourteen other states that permit felons to vote as soon as they are released from prison, even on parole or probation, according to the Sentencing Project.
A non-profit organization, The Sentencing Project has played a role in fighting for and implementing the new bill. The organization states that it is “working for a fair and effective criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing laws and practice, and alternatives to incarceration.”
While Governor Hogan still remains against the bill, others have different views. Some students think the bill should pay attention to the crimes committed by the prisoner, and that that should affect when they are able to regain their right to vote.
“It’s a complex issue. I think it depends on the crime. I think it’s all situational,” said Thomas Hughes, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School.
Other states have a stricter approach. Eighteen other states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas, restrict voting rights until after a person finishes parole and probation. Twelve others, including Florida, have stronger restrictions, such as waiting periods after a sentence is completed.
For some, this means that the fight for voting rights is an even more important one. Jane Henderson is the executive director of Communities United, a Baltimore-based group that helps former inmates reenter society. To her, the overturning of the veto is “a huge victory for voting rights.”
Half of the felons who will be able to vote as a result of the Maryland legislation live in Baltimore, a city that has been in the center of a tense political debate over police brutality and decimation towards black citizens.
“These folks are my neighbors,” said Del. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore), who was arrested as a teenager for dealing drugs. He sponsored the House version of the bill. “I’m glad that when these neighbors came looking for somebody to hear their point of view that it didn’t fall on deaf ears with the General Assembly.”
In fact, his ‘neighbors’ came looking and stayed to watch the change happen. Some opposition to the bill was founded in a belief that it was irrelevant, because inmates did not care about their right to vote anyway, and that they would not want to be involved in politics. However, as the vote passed in the Senate, about a dozen felons observed the vote from the gallery.
“They gave me my voice back, and I’m going to let it ring,” said Marcus Toles, 22, who was released from prison last August and will be on parole until November. Under the new bill he will be able to vote starting in early March – an exciting prospect for him, but one that requires a lot of legislative organization to happen before it can begin taking effect.
The bill will take effect in 30 days, meaning that advocates have very little time to find and register former inmates in time to vote in the April 26 primary. However, this new group of voters would likely be in favor of many policies supporters of the bill push for, and so the Ladvocates are speeding to get them ready to vote.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Alex Haddad of Richard Montgomery High School