Washington, DC – Last Friday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed an historic voting rights bill, SB 340, which would have restored the right to vote for nearly 40,000 previously incarcerated Marylanders. The legislation, passed through the Maryland General Assembly with overwhelming majorities, would have allowed individuals who had completed their incarceration to register to vote. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan failed to recognize the importance and potential impact of this legislation, denying nearly 40,000 Marylanders the right to have their voices heard in their communities.
Continue reading for statements from member organizations and allies of the Democracy Initiative.
From Jane Henderson, Executive Director at Communities United:
“Communities United is disappointed by Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of voting rights legislation (SB 340). People leaving the criminal justice system urgently need to be re-enfranchised and once again have a voice in their communities. Communities United and other advocates fought to change Maryland’s voting rights law because the current system is broken and does not strike a “proper balance.” It just keeps Marylanders from voting.
“By vetoing this bill, the governor has effectively disenfranchised 40,000 Marylanders who want to participate in their communities. The Maryland General Assembly can’t override Hogan’s veto until they reconvene in January 2016, which undermines efforts to register voters and may suppress voting in the 2016 Baltimore City and federal elections as well in subsequent elections.
“Gov. Hogan has learned nothing from the uprising in Baltimore and what the city and state residents need. Freddie Gray’s West Baltimore neighborhood has the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the state. Former felons need a voice and the ability to influence what happens in their communities and lives.
“Voting is a human right and we will continue to push and fight for the re-enfranchisement of all citizens.”
From Judith Browne Dianis and Penda Hair, Advancement Project Co-Directors:
“It is unacceptable that Governor Hogan unilaterally denied tens of thousands of his own constituents their fundamental right to vote,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “Nationwide, one in every 13 Black adults cannot vote as a result of laws that revoke voting rights for persons with prior felony convictions. In Maryland, African Americans account for 65-percent of those disenfranchised due to a prior felony conviction, while comprising only 30-percent of the state’s population. While everyone deserves a second chance, Governor Hogan appears to ignore that basic American value for people of color, who are disenfranchised due to structural racism that contributes to African Americans and Latinos being disproportionately detained and arrested, unreasonably searched, wrongly imprisoned and punished more severely than other racial groups.”
“Last week, Maryland’s governor unnecessarily denied voting rights for people who have repaid their debt to society and been released from incarceration,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “Instead of being embraced as full participants in our society, 40,000 Marylanders have been cast aside and deprived of their fundamental right to vote. Restoring voting rights is fundamental to fostering full community integration and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. The Maryland legislature seized the opportunity to create a more just and inclusive democracy by passing this bill, and the governor did nothing more than stand in the way of progress by vetoing it. The voters of Maryland deserve better, and anyone who believes in the values of just democracy should expect more.”
From Tomas Lopez, Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:
“At a time when leaders of both political parties are uniting to reform our criminal justice system, this veto is a failure of leadership by Governor Hogan. After the unrest in Baltimore, Marylanders are demanding to be heard. Restoring voting rights to 40,000 citizens would expand our democracy and increase public safety. Other lawmakers in Maryland understand this and have offered leadership. Governor Hogan has offered excuses. The General Assembly should respond by overriding his veto and giving these citizens a second chance."
From said Katrina Gamble, Director of Civic Engagement and Politics at the Center for Popular Democracy:
“We are deeply disappointed that the Governor has vetoed a bill that would restore the right to vote to 40,000 people. A disproportionate amount of the disenfranchised in Maryland are from low-income communities of color. The Governor's veto undermines democracy and disenfranchises 40,000 people who should have a voice and a vote.
“We call on the state legislature to override Governor Hogan’s veto and support the restoration of voting rights.”
From Miles Rapoport, Common Cause President:
“Gov. Hogan missed an opportunity last week to make Maryland’s democracy more robust and engaging. His veto of a bill that would restore the right to vote to nearly 40,000 individuals who've completed their prison sentences ignores the will of the people as expressed through their legislature. Gov. Hogan claimed he couldn't support SB 340 because the men and women it would affect are “still serving their time” through parole or probation. The governor seems not to understand what those terms mean. When individuals are released from prison on parole or probation, they are called on to re-engage in their communities, secure and maintain jobs, and pay their taxes. To demand that they accept these responsibilities without granting their attending rights injures the former offenders and their communities and smacks justice in the face. With people of color disproportionately represented in the prison system – both in Maryland and across the country – this issue raises civil rights concerns that state and federal governments can and should remedy. We need to do better by our citizens and our democracy.”
From Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos:
“Restoring the right to vote to citizens returning to their communities is critical to make sure that every voice is heard in our democracy. Felon disenfranchisement laws have a racist past and a racially discriminatory current impact that should not be perpetuated. Demos urges the Maryland legislature to override the veto and enact this long-overdue reform.”
From Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Every Voice Center:
“Democracy is strengthened when every citizen has a vote and a voice which is why restoring a person’s right to vote once they’ve paid their debt to society is a standard that should apply in Maryland and in every state across the nation. Gov. Hogan did the right thing by funding Maryland’s public financing system, yet today he proved to be inconsistent in his efforts to lift up the voices of everyday people in the political process. Every Voice Center will continue to work with Communities United, state legislators, and all those who are fighting to ensure all Marylanders have the basic right to vote on matters that affect them, their families, and their communities.”
From Robert Brandon, President of the Fair Elections Legal Network:
“We are surprised and disappointed by the Governor’s decision to block the re-enfranchisement of 40,000 ex-offenders. The point of probation and parole is to create a path for those convicted of crimes to become productive members of society. If Governor Hogan wants formerly incarcerated persons to be integrated back into the community, he should have supported their right to vote as part of that process.”
From Rachel Rye Butler, Democracy Campaigner at Greenpeace:
“Our democracy and our communities are strongest when everyone is able to meaningfully participate in the decisions that impact their lives and the health of their families and communities. Restoring the right to vote to citizens returning to their communities from prison is a necessary step to address a criminal justice system that, like environmental pollution, has systematically and disproportionately impacted people of color. Once again, we applaud the Maryland Legislature for passing this bill to restore voting rights, and we support calls to override the Governor's exclusionary veto. Keeping people out of decisions that impact them only weakens communities and our democracy.”
From: Marcia Johnson Blanco, Co-Director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
“We are truly disappointed that Governor Hogan has failed to give a second chance to the nearly 40,000 previously incarcerated Marylanders who have served their sentences and wish to fully participate as voting citizens in their communities. His veto perpetuates restrictive policies that unjustly disenfranchise individuals and disproportionately affect minorities.”
From Rea Carey, National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director:
“We are disappointed with Governor Hogan’s veto of Maryland’s re-enfranchisement bill. Too many LGBTQ people—and transgender people specifically—know very well what it means to be unfairly treated by the criminal justice system and to be denied the right to vote. While our country has made significant gains to equality, the Justice Department’s report confirming racially-biased policing by officers in Ferguson, as well as the ongoing killing of black youth across the nation, demonstrate the need to reform our criminal justice and voting rights laws.
“To this day, unfair voting laws keep marginalized groups from the ballot box and racially biased policing disproportionally criminalizes the most vulnerable. In fact, 71 percent of crack cocaine users are white but 84 percent of those arrested for possession were black according to Amnesty International. We’re a nation that believes in equal opportunity and second chances. Increasing voting participation among all Americans, including those returning home from prison seeking to create a better world for their families, will lead toward fairness and equal treatment under the law.”
From Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President & CEO:
“We are deeply disappointed with Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to veto the state legislature’s overwhelming support to re-enfranchise nearly 40,000 Marylanders. Among them are husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, business owners and community leaders who have paid their debt to society, are contributing to their communities but cannot live fully productive lives. Restoring the right to vote for returning citizens moves us in the direction of promoting participatory democracy, lowering recidivism and transforming our communities. Our vote is our voice. The NAACP will continue to fight on behalf of the unheard by working alongside our allies and with the state legislature. NAACP members across the state will continue to press onward to override Governor Hogan’s veto and restore the voting rights of Marylanders once and for all.”
Gregory T. Moore, Executive Director, NAACP-National Voter Fund:
"The NAACP-National Voter Fund congratulates the efforts of Communities United and the broad based Coalition of organizations who were able urge the legislature to pass a long overdue re-enfranchisement legislation in the state of Maryland. The bill, SB 380 passed both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly with overwhelming majorities. The vast majority of the citizens of Maryland support second chances for their fellow citizens who have paid their debt to society.
"We applaud Governor Larry Hogan for signing the Maryland Second Chance Act of 2015, but express our profound disappointment that he did not find the courage to demonstrate that same commitment for a second chance when it comes to restoring the right to vote for over 40,000 citizens. We urge the Maryland General Assembly to override the Governor's veto at the earliest opportunity. It would be a major step in restoring faith in our electoral and criminal justice systems that are both in desperate need of repair."
From Joe Velasquez, Executive Director of National Council of La Raza Action Fund:
"By vetoing SB 340, Governor Hogan has condemned tens of thousands of Maryland citizens to continued disenfranchisement. Rather than offer nearly 40,000 Marylanders a second chance at civic life, Gov. Hogan has foreclosed the possibility of full rehabilitation for those who have already served their time and are now striving to transition back into their communities.
“We know that felon disfranchisement laws disproportionately affect people of color, and we know that this has to change. As a Latino organization, the NCLR Action Fund is disappointed that Governor Hogan has chosen to maintain the unequal and untenable status quo rather than follow the mandate of the Maryland General Assembly and the Maryland public that he was elected to serve.”
From Michael Slater, President of Project Vote:
“Project Vote is extremely disappointed that Maryland’s governor has vetoed a bill that would have allowed tens of thousands of disenfranchised citizens the opportunity to reintegrate into their communities and participate in the democratic process. Laws that deny the basic rights of citizenship to former felons have a disproportionate impact on low-income Americans and people of color, and deny a voice to the very people who most need to be heard. Our society as a whole is stronger when our representative government truly represents all of its citizens.”
From Josh Tulkin, Director, Maryland Sierra Club:
"The Sierra Club is extremely disappointed that Larry Hogan vetoed this important legislation which would have restored voting rights for Maryland citizens returning from prison. This legislation would have empowered communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by both assaults on felon voting rights and assaults on clean air, clean water, and public health. When more Americans can vote, we're stronger and better positioned to stand up to big polluters and corporations that are increasingly dominating our elections and our government. Once people have served their time in prison, they should be able to vote and meaningfully contribute to their communities."
The Democracy Initiative (DI) is a network of 55 civil rights, environmental, labor, and civic organizations formed to restore the core principles of democracy and political equality. Originally formed in 2012, the DI represents more than 35 million members nationwide.