Democracy Initiative Organizations Release Statements Supporting Passage of Historic Voter Re-Enfranchisement Bill in Maryland

Monday, April 13, 2015

Washington, DC – Last Friday, the Maryland state legislature passed an historic voting rights bill, restoring the right to vote to nearly 40,000 previously incarcerated Marylanders. The bill, SB 340, simply allows individuals who have completed their incarceration to register to vote. Now awaiting the signature of Governor Larry Hogan who has yet to indicate his support, SB 340 not only gives citizens a voice at the ballot box it ensures their ability to invest in the community.  The legislation passed with broad majority support in both houses thanks to the tireless efforts of Communities United and coalition organizations in Maryland.

Continue reading for statements from member organizations and allies of the Democracy Initiative.

From Penda Hair and Judith Browne Dianis, Advancement Project Co-Directors:

“We commend Maryland’s legislature for taking this important stride towards a more just and inclusive democracy,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair. “No one should be deprived of their fundamental right to vote. As a result of today’s vote, a path has been set for people to fully rejoin their communities and stand alongside their neighbors at the voting booth. This is a momentous day for the 40,000 Marylanders who are set to regain their voice in our political process, and for all who believe in the values of inclusive democracy. Laws that disenfranchise voters based on felony convictions are known to have a disparate impact on voters of color. In Maryland, African Americans have accounted for 65 percent of those disenfranchised due to a prior felony conviction, while comprising only 30 percent of the state’s population. Governor Hogan must do the right thing and sign this historic bill.”

“We applaud the efforts of the courageous grassroots advocates across Maryland who fought for this legislation,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “There are endless benefits to restoring voting rights for people released from incarceration, including the fostering of full community integration and the fulfillment of our core democratic principles. Maryland’s actions to expand voting rights today mark a crucial step, but we must not forget the over 5 million Americans – disproportionately people of color – who remain unable to cast ballots because of prior felony convictions. Nationwide, one in every 13 Black adults cannot vote as the result of such convictions. We hope other states will follow Maryland’s lead and act decisively to expand access to the ballot for all.”

From Tefere Gebre, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President:

“An important part of reforming our nation’s criminal justice system is ensuring that we restore voting rights for those with past criminal convictions. Maryland lawmakers are to be applauded for working to protect the voting rights of tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated people. I urge Governor Hogan to sign SB 340 and allow those who have paid their debt to fully participate in our democracy.”

From Tomas Lopez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law:

“Americans believe in second chances. Restoring a person’s right to vote once they’ve paid their debt to society gives them an opportunity for redemption and a chance to be full members of their community. This bill will help thousands of people who live, work, and raise families in Maryland. Our democracy will only grow stronger when more citizens participate. We urge the governor to sign it without delay.”

From said Katrina Gamble, Director of Civic Engagement and Politics at the Center for Popular Democracy:

“The Maryland General Assembly has struck a huge blow for fairness and justice by passing legislation to restore the vote to almost 40,000 ex-offenders who are living in the community, holding down jobs, and trying to be responsible citizens. We now call on Governor Hogan to sign the bill into law and promote the full reintegration of our neighbors, friends and family members.”

From Miles Rapoport, Common Cause President:

"The extended disenfranchisement of citizens with felony convictions is a major failing in our democracy. People released from prison have paid the price set by our laws, and fair play and fundamental decency dictate that when people in prison, who are vastly disproportionately from communities of color, return to society, they should regain the basic rights of citizenship," said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport​. "No right is more basic than the right to vote; SB 340 would restore that right to nearly 40,000 Marylanders, thereby fulfilling democracy’s promise that all citizens have a say in the political process."

From Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos:

“We commend Maryland on taking this step forward to ensure the freedom to vote for all citizens. Restoring the right to vote for citizens returning to their communities is critical to make sure every voice is heard in our democracy” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. "Felon disenfranchisement laws have a racist past and racially discriminatory current impact, and changing the system so it is simpler, easier to understand and administer, and more equitable is something all Marylanders can be proud of." 

From Rachel Rye Butler, Democracy Campaigner at Greenpeace:

"The right to vote – just like the right to free speech and protest-- is at the foundation of our democracy, and our democracy is strongest when everyone is able to participate in decisions that impact them," said Rachel Rye Butler, Democracy Campaigner at Greenpeace.  "With a criminal justice system that systematically and disproportionately impacts people of color, the Maryland Legislature took a step in the right direction by passing this bill to restore voting rights to citizens returning to their communities from prison." 

From Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President & CEO:

“The NAACP applauds the Maryland legislature for approving a bill to restore the right to vote to nearly 40,000 people who have paid their debt to society. Throughout the country 5.8 million American citizens are prevented from participating in the voting process; including 4.3 million who continue to be silenced after completing their sentence and returning to their community. Nationally, 1 out of every 13 voting-eligible African-Americans has been stripped of their voting rights. This bill will help thousands of people who currently live, work, and raise families in Maryland every year. We firmly believe in second chances and that citizens who have completed their sentences be allowed to exercise the constitutional right to vote.”

From Gerald Stansbury, NAACP Maryland State Conference President:  

“The SB340 bill will strengthen our communities throughout Maryland. The majority of citizens regaining their voting rights under this legislation are African American so this legislation strengthens participatory democracy in our state. We know also that returning citizens who vote are less likely to be arrested again and more likely to be productive, engaged and law-abiding. This measure is a win for civil rights and public safety. We applaud the General Assembly for its passage of the bill and urge the governor to sign it."

From Joe Velasquez, Executive Director of National Council of La Raza Action Fund:

“Governor Hogan, you have a monumental opportunity to give thousands of Marylanders a second chance, and their voting rights back. By signing SB 340 into law, Maryland can accommodate its citizens - those who’ve served their prison time - with a proper and timely transition into our communities and promote civic participation. 

“It’s disappointing to see the lopsided impact felon disfranchisement laws have on people of color. Instead we should do everything in our power to encourage voting participation amongst minorities and do away with flawed burdens. 

“The National Council of La Raza Action Fund applauds the work Communities United has done on this issue, and prompts Governor Hogan to return the right to vote to his fellow citizens.”

From People for the American Way:

“Disenfranchising those who have served their time in prison hampers the process of reintegration and shamefully blocks thousands of Americans from participating in elections. It worsens the discrimination already faced by formerly incarcerated people — who pay taxes, work, and contribute to their communities — and it weakens our democracy.

“Passage of this bill is a big step forward in the movement for voting rights for all. Now it’s up to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it and help make the state’s democratic process as fair and accessible as possible.”

From  Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign:

“Our democracy is stronger when every citizen has a vote and a voice in our political system. We congratulate Communities United and the other groups that worked so hard to pass this bill and to take a step towards ensuring everyone in Maryland has the basic right to vote on matters that affect them, their families, and their communities. Restoring a person’s right to vote once they’ve paid their debt to society is a standard we should apply in every state across the nation.”

From Josh Tulkin, Director, Maryland Sierra Club:

"Returning citizens who have served their time deserve a voice in our system to meaningfully contribute to their communities. This legislation would particularly empower communities of color who are disproportionately affected by assaults on their right to vote and assaults on clean air, clean water, and public health. When more Americans can vote, our nation is stronger and better positioned to change the status quo that lets fossil fuel billionaires pollute our environment and our democracy at will. That's why the Maryland Sierra Club applauds this victory to uphold the American principle of equality in our democracy."

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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.