With a Democratic governor-elect and Democratic majority in the state legislature, a New Jersey state senator is hoping to pass legislation that will restore voting rights to those disenfranchised by criminal convictions.
State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) on Thursday said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would allow convicted felons, those on probation, people on parole and incarcerated individuals to vote in elections, a bill that would dramatically alter current New Jersey law that prohibits those with criminal convictions from voting.
Current law disproportionately affects New Jersey's black community, which comprises 50 percent of prison inmates but only 15 percent of the general population.
A recent report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice found that New Jersey currently prohibits 94,000 individuals from voting due to criminal history or incarceration.
State Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson) is looking to sponsor the legislation with Rice:
“I have long been a champion of expanding racial justice and expanding the right to vote,” Cunningham said. “The issue of voting rights for people with criminal convictions implicates three issues that all New Jerseyans should care about: the right to participate in the political process, having a criminal justice system that treats people with dignity and facilitates effective rehabilitation and racial justice.”
If the bill makes it to Governor-elect Phil Murphy's desk for signature, New Jersey will join other states that acknowledge the rights of convicted criminals to participate in the democratic process:
Many states automatically return voting rights to individuals when they leave jail. Two states, Maine and Vermont, never strip voting rights, even allowing those in jail to cast ballots in elections. New Jersey allows those who have left prison to vote only after they have finished parole or probation.