NEWARK, N.J. (CBS) — Criminal justice advocates in New Jersey are pushing for a change in state law that would allow those convicted of a felony the right to vote, even if they are serving time for their crime.
They’re armed with a newly released study showing blacks in the state are locked up at a far greater rate than whites.
New Jersey’s voting ban on those incarcerated or on probation and parole dates back to 1844. A study conducted by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice concludes decades of racial inequality in the criminal justice system have resulted in blacks 12 times more likely to be jailed than whites, and therefore denied the right to vote.
“We have to erase this moral stain on our democracy by ending New Jersey’s practice of denying voting rights based on criminal convictions,” Institute President Ryan Haygood told KYW Newsradio, “and restoring the right to vote to nearly 100,000 people who are either on probation, parole or in prison.”
The author of the report, titled “We Are 1844 No More: Let Us Vote”, is Scott Novakowski, the Institute’s Associate Counsel.
“Despite being only about 15 percent of the state’s population, black people make up around half of those denied the right to vote because of a criminal conviction,” Novakowski said. “This is a direct result of importing the racial disparities of the criminal justice system into the electorate.”
They were joined on a conference call by others from the ACLU and other organizations, as well as state legislators who plan to introduce a bill to change the law, although they concede past efforts have not succeeded. This time, though, they point to Governor-elect Phil Murphy, who they expect to support such a plan.
Only two states in the nation, Maine and Vermont, allow incarcerated felons to vote by absentee ballot. Several states restore a convict’s voting right upon their release from prison.
A copy of the report can be viewed by clicking here.