ACLU Hails General Assembly for Passing Maryland Voting Rights Restoration Bill

Affiliate: ACLU of Maryland
March 27, 2007 12:00 am

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Calls on Governor to Sign Bill Into Law

BALTIMORE – After many years of advocacy based on the fundamental principle of democracy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland today hailed passage of legislation by both houses of the General Assembly to restore the right to vote to individuals who have paid their debt to society. Last week, the Senate voted 28-17 in favor of SB 488, and last night the House passed the legislation by a vote of 78-60. Now, the bill goes to the desk of Governor Martin O’Malley.

The law would restore voting rights to ex-offenders who have completed their sentences, including probation and parole supervision.

“The ACLU calls on Governor O’Malley to stand up for civil rights and basic democratic principles by signing this important legislation into law,” said Cynthia Boersma, ACLU of Maryland Legislative Director. “Thousands of citizens who have paid their debt to society are still without a voice here in Maryland because current law disenfranchises them. Thanks to fair-minded legislators, we now have the opportunity for change that will help breathe life into the promise of the franchise.”

The citizens made eligible under the voting rights law have been determined by courts, the probation department and the parole board to be ready to re-join society, fit for employment, fit for their families, fit to be neighbors and colleagues, and fit to be citizens. The ACLU has long said that the return to civic life cannot be complete for these individuals without the fundamental right to vote.

The ACLU noted that this was a hard vote for some legislators because the bill’s detractors attempted to turn the issue into a referendum about being “tough on crime.” However, the initiative’s supporters in the Assembly made it clear that this was an issue of democracy, separate from crime and punishment, and that by enacting such legislation, Maryland joins 38 other states that have similar provisions in law.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Gwendolyn Britt and Delegate Justin Ross of Prince George’s County, and received significant support from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch. Leaders in both chambers, Senator Roy P. Dyson (D-Calvert, Charles & St. Mary’s Counties) and Delegate Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County), kept the legislature focused on the fundamental nature of the right to vote.

The ACLU of Maryland worked with numerous other groups on behalf of the legislation, including Justice Maryland, the Maryland League of Women Voters, ACORN, NAACP, the Brennan Center, the Sentencing Project, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Public Justice Center.

More information and the full vote count are available online at: mlis.state.md.us/2007rs/billfile/sb0488.htm

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