Voices & Choices

Maryland voting rights restoration: A call for Gov. Hogan to stand on principle

Maryland voting rights restoration: A call for Gov. Hogan to stand on principle
According to the Sentencing Project, an estimated 5.85 million Americans citizens today are denied the right to vote because of state laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions..

The Maryland legislature this year voted to join 13 states like Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Utah in continuing to deny suffrage rights to citizens with felony convictions when they are incarcerated, but to restore voting rights immediately upon release from  prison. Gov. Larry Hogan is considering whether to sign the bill, accept it or veto it.

Current debate over this legislation is a great example of how many Americans still haven't grappled with accepting voting as a right, as opposed  to seeing it as  privilege. The United States is an international outlier among well-established democracies in denying the right to vote to incarcerated citizens, let alone non-incarcerated people with felony convictions.

As one example, the European Court of Human Rights has four times ruled that the United Kingdom is in violation of European rights law for denying voting rights to incarcerated citizens, most recently in February, At least 18 European nations, along with nations like Canada and two states (Maine and Vermont) do not deny voting rights to citizens in prison.

Maryland for  years was among the worst states for denial of voting rights to people  with felony convictions, then improved its status a few years ago This bill would bring our state in line with several others -- still denying voting rights to incarcerated citizens with felony convictions, but at least restoring voting rights upon release from prison.

My home city of Takoma Park to its credit adopted this change a couple years ago for its own elections.If you have three  minutes to spare, watch ex-offender Jerry Cowan's powerful  testimony to the Takoma Park city council about his personal history and support for suffrage:

The fact that states even have this power over suffrage rights is tied to the lack of an explicit right to vote in the U.S Constitution. Such an absence allows state political leaders to make suffrage a part of political football, with suggestions that it's somehow"soft on crime" to support human rights and voting rights.

For Gov Hogan, this can be a defining moment: will he take a principled position or just play politics?

Join Us Today to Help Create a More Perfect Union