PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New Jersey lawmakers introduced a bill Monday that would open the polls to nearly 100,000 individuals who have been barred from the ballot box. Lawmakers are using community support to push politicians to take action.
If passed, New Jersey would follow Maine and Vermont in restoring the right to vote to individuals on probation and parole and in prison.
“No one should lose that fundamental right, that right that is sacred,” says Ryan Haygood, who runs the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. That organization is one of more than 80 community groups supporting lawmakers introducing the bill. Supporters include the ACLU of New Jersey, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Association of Black Criminal Lawyers and many more.
“There is no relationship between voting and committing crimes,” says New Jersey state Sen. Ron Rice, who is co-sponsoring the bill alongside state Sen. Sandra Cunningham and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter.
He says disparities in the criminal justice system in New Jersey are some of the worst in the country. According to statistics highlighted by #1844NoMore supporters, black adults in New Jersey are 12 times more likely to be arrested than white adults and black youth are 30 times more likely to be arrested than white youth, even though data shows the two groups commit crimes at the same rate. Because of the disparities, nearly half of those barred from the ballot box because of criminal convictions are African-American.
“What is citizenship in a democracy if you don’t have the right to vote?” says Ron Pierce, who is on parole. The military veteran served 30 years in prison and hasn’t voted since 1985. He was released in 2016.
The convict voting ban became law in 1844 as part of a racist past, and now New Jersey lawmakers say it’s time to change.
“At best we are perpetuating an injustice from 1844 without thinking about it,” says Amol Sinha, who runs the ACLU of New Jersey. “At worst, we are deliberately, systemically and willfully disenfranchising people of color.”
“Give the rights back to people that was taken away from them,” says Rice.
Lawmakers have the benefit of a Democratic legislature and governor, although it is unclear how many lawmakers support the bill at this point.
When asked whether New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy will support the effort, Daniel Bryan, spokesman for the New Jersey Governor’s Office wrote the following in an email.
“Governor Murphy believes that we are a better, stronger, and more representative democracy when more New Jerseyans participate. He looks forward to working with the legislature to pass legislation that expands access to the ballot.”
Critics of the bill see the stripping of voting rights as a punitive measure and argue that voting rights should only be restored when an individual has full repaid his or her debt to society. Supporters of the #1844NoMore bill say voting rights should be separate from criminal justice.
For more on the effort to pass the bill, search #1844NoMore on social media.